As the calendar switches to 2015, the importance of this weekend's Watkins Tournament at Cushing Academy only takes on more significance as Elite 8 hopefuls Cushing, Dexter, Gunnery, and Thayer all vie for the title against Indiana powerhouse Culver and local foes Lawrence Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon, and Canterbury.
Thursday: Cushing vs. NMH @ 11:10, Culver vs. Dexter @ 1:20, NMH vs. Gunnery @ 5:40
Friday: Culver vs. Thayer @ 9, Cushing vs. Gunnery @ 3:30, Dexter vs. Thayer @ 7:50
After cruising through group play at the Groton-Lawrence Tournament, Cushing ran into the road block that was Culver Academy as they were blanked 3-0. For them to top a solid Gunnery team, a streaky NMH squad, and an unproven Lawrence contingent, they will need the brilliance of the Bailey Conger (St. Lawrence commit), David Cotton (BC recruit), and Jake Simons all weekend long. The Penguins have the the offensive firepower to defend their home ice, but will need more production from their second and third lines if they want to book a place in Saturday's final.
After dominating the competition at the Groton-Lawrence Tournament, expectations will be high for Culver at the Watkins Tournament. Karch Bachman (Miami commit) and Jamie Collins led the offense in Groton while Nick MacNab was fantastic in net, only giving up 1 goal against Dexter and 0 against Cushing. Culver will face a hungry Dexter team on Thursday while taking on Thayer Friday morning. These two games could very well decide who wins the group.
Dexter has failed to hit the heights that many expected it would in the early going of the season. Yet, the team is 5-1-1 in New England and coming off of a decent showing at the Groton-Lawrence Tournament where it took third place by beating Proctor. However, for Dexter to take out Culver and Thayer in group play, it is necessary that the top line of Sam D'Antuono, Ryan Donato (Harvard commit, Bruins draft pick), and Kevin Hock play their best hockey of the season. This line was dynamite at the end of last season but has played second fiddle so far to second liners Pat Daly (16 points), Matt Brazel (13 points), and Bryan Green (13 points). Liam Moore needs to continue playing well in net while Luke McInnis (BC recruit) is now showing why many consider him the best defenseman in prep hockey.
A team that plays well at tournaments, having made the 2014 Elite 8 finals and winning last year's Watkins Tournament, The Gunnery should be favored to win their group this weekend. Although they only have one marquee win so far this season, a 4-1 W over Berkshire, The Gunnery is poised to breakout this weekend behind a balanced attack. However, the lack of an elite first line could leave them vulnerable on Friday versus Cushing. Yet, expect Trevor Kozlowski (93% save percentage) to carry this team this weekend.
Although Thayer stands at 6-1 overall, the jury is still out on the Tigers as they struggled against St. Andrew's and have played a string of weak teams. However, as shown in their demolitions of Proctor and Albany Academy, Tony Amonte's Thayer team has plenty of firepower. Lincoln Griffin (Northeastern commit) leads the team with 17 points while Tristan Amonte, only fourteen years old, is third on the team with 8 points. Mike Royer has been an absolute brick wall in net with a 95% save percentage. For the Tigers to get by Culver and Dexter, they are going to need Griffin and the supporting cast to put up a lot of goals.
Northfield Mount Hermon
Having been without dynamic forward Ben Freeman for 5 of their 11 games, NMH has struggled to find consistency in the early going. They have beaten up on a string of bad teams but were easily dispatched by lowly Canterbury. If they are to beat Cushing and Gunnery in group play, the Hoggers need a big weekend from their senior goalie, Conor O'Brien (93 % save percentage), this weekend.
While goalie Mike Robinson (UNH commit) has been sensational so far, the Spartans as a team have not been nearly as good. Freshman Timmy Kent (9 points) and Craig Needham (6 points) lead the attack but have received little support from their fellow forwards. The team put up a good fight on home ice versus Cushing, a 3-1 loss, but in Ashburnham, expect the Penguins, The Gunnery, and NMH to dominate Lawrence.
Having lost All-New England goalie Christian Short to graduation, Canterbury has struggled to find an adequate replacement in net. Rotating between two, sometimes three goalies, has left the Saints in a perilous state with a 1-6-2 record. In a group with Culver, Dexter, and Thayer, the Saints are going to need some divine intervention to be spared from three blowouts.
In group play, I like The Gunnery to top Cushing, NMH, and Lawrence. As for the other group, I think this is the weekend that Dexter plays like the team it is capable of being and takes out Culver, Thayer, and Canterbury. For the Championship, I am going to take Dexter over The Gunnery. Should be an exciting weekend of hockey as the prep season rings in 2015!