As the season winds down to a close, the race for the playoffs comes to the forefront of everyone's minds. With only five days left in the season, here are the contenders, pretenders, and games to watch.
The Race for the Elite 8
As has been the case for the majority of the season, Exeter (23-2-2) has led the way in the USHR JSPR and RPI polls. The Big Red, however, have not been playing their best hockey of late. With recent losses to Proctor and Northfield Mount Hermon, Exeter has become increasingly vulnerable. Yet, any team with Teddy Hart (47 points) in the fold is sure to be one of the favorites. Since losing to Exeter on January 30th, Cushing (22-2-4) has been on an absolute tear ever since then. The Penguins, led by Boston College commit David Cotton (62 points) and St. Lawrence commit Bailey Conger (58 points), have knocked off Salisbury and Kimball Union in the last month. The class of the Founders League, Loomis-Chaffee (20-4-1) is looking increasingly like a lock for a home playoff game. The Pelicans are led by Vermont commit Alex Esposito (35 points) and have proved their might in the last month with wins over Salisbury and Westminster, both of which came on the road. After these three teams, the next five spots are up for grabs, in terms of where the teams will end up. Right now, Salisbury (19-4-1) looks like the most safe bet for taking that fourth spot. The Crimson Knights have stumbled as of late with losses against Cushing and Loomis. Yet, never doubt Salisbury's ability to turn things around come playoff time. Head and shoulders above the rest of the ISL, Nobles (19-4-1) has not lost since a 4-3 decision to Thayer. Boston College commit Miles Wood cannot be stopped by any of the lowly ISL squads he constantly terrorizes and this reality has the Bulldogs in the Elite 8 picture. Devoid of any good opponents recently, things heat up for Gunnery (19-5) this week. With games against Berkshire and Westminster, the Highlanders need two wins if they want to move up the rankings. Although they do not score many goals, the Gunnery knows how to play come playoff time. Ever since losing to the Gunnery on January 3rd, Dexter (16-2-5) has been tested but has not lost. Although ties against Exeter and Brooks should have been wins, the team has finished off solid Tabor and St. Mark's squads. The team has yet to defeat a top team but having come so close against Exeter and Cushing, Dexter is sure to be a tough out when the Elite 8 rolls around. Kimball Union (21-6-1) has had a tough go against opponents outside the Lakes Region lately, with losses against Cushing and lowly Andover. However, Army commit Dom Franco (36 points) has been a breakout star this season and he has the Wildcats poised for an upset in the first round.
Recent losses against Roxbury Latin and Middlesex have exposed Brooks' (17-3-4) faults. Yet, Brooks has tied Dexter and pushed Exeter to the limit. However, do not expect any Eberhat representation in the Elite 8 this year. St. Mark's (19-4-2) have been a pleasant surprise this season. The Lions have a very talented first line, first defenseman pair, and goalie, but those factors have not translated into any marquee wins. Expect St. Mark's to be the first seed in the Small School Tournament. Coming out of nowhere this season, Brunswick (19-6) has caused lots of problems for its opponents. Led by the highest scoring defenseman in prep hockey, Michael Faulkner (38 points), the Bruins have beat Loomis and Belmont Hill. Yet, big losses to Salisbury and Exeter have the Bruins looking like a pretender. Wrapping up my list is Choate (14-6-4). The Wild Boars do not score many goals but have managed to beat the likes of Westminster, Berkshire, and Brunswick thanks to the play of Sam Tucker (Yale commit) and Andrew Tucci in net. Even though they managed to beat Loomis yesterday, time is running out for the Wild Boars to make a leap in the standings.
Games to Watch
Wednesday, February 25th
Cushing @ New Hampton at 3:30, Westminster @ Gunnery at 4:15, Albany @ Williston @ 4:15, St. Paul's @ Belmont Hill at 5
Friday, February 27th
St. Paul's @ Dexter at 6, Brooks @ Belmont Hill at 6:15
Saturday, February 28th
Gunnery @ Berkshire at 2:30, Andover @ Exeter at 4, Milton at Nobles @ 4:15, Kent @ Choate at 5, St. Sebastian's @ Thayer at 5:30, Avon Old Farms @ Loomis at 7:30
Lots of upsets, overtime games, and blowouts are sure to happen during the last week of what has been a crazy prep hockey season. Be sure to follow all the action leading up to Sunday's tournament selection proceedings!