After 1,548 games played, the New England prep hockey regular season has come to a close. Exeter, despite recent struggles, enters the tournament as the number one seed, trailed by Cushing, Nobles, Loomis, Salisbury, Gunnery, Dexter, and Kimball Union. Here is my preview of the eight games to be played on Wednesday...
#8 Kimball Union (23-6-1) at #1 Exeter (24-3-2)
Exeter enter the tournament coming off of a loss to lowly Andover, a team that Kimball Union also lost to a couple of weeks ago. These two prep heavyweights tied 2-2 on January 28th and this game is sure to be a close affair. For the visiting Wildcats, they need standout goaltender Oscar Flory (94% save percentage) to be on his game. Dom Franco (Army commit) and Pat Shea (Maine commit) lead the way offensively, with each player recording 38 points on the season. For the Big Red, they need to rekindle the mojo that was flowing when they started the season with 20 straight wins. Teddy Hart (48 points) and Andy Espinoza (44 points) need to find a way past Flory of KUA. Expect this game to be a barnburner.
#7 Dexter (18-2-5) at #2 Cushing (24-2-4)
Featuring the two best centers in New England, the Dexter/Cushing matchup features lots of star power. Ryan Donato (Harvard commit) of Dexter has been heating up recently while David Cotton (Boston College commit) of Cushing led New England with 68 points. Cushing's first line of Conger-Cotton-Simons has been unstoppable at times and Dexter's Pat Daly (50 points) is one of the best forwards in prep hockey. However, this game is going to come down to how well the second and third lines of both teams play. Second line stalwarts Matt Brazel (Babson commit) of Dexter and Danny Eruzione of Cushing are the players to watch in this game. These teams tied 2-2 in December and expect another tight one between these two rivals.
#6 Gunnery (19-5-2) at #3 Nobles (21-4-1)
These two teams have not played this year but have played lots of common opponents, such as Dexter, Salisbury, and Tabor. Nobles is led by Boston College commit Miles Wood, who has 34 points in 16 games. The Gunnery's scoring is spread throughout the entirety of the lineup, with four players recording 30 or more points. This game will come down to Gunnery's ability to shut down Wood. If Nobles' New Jersey Devils draft pick has himself a day to remember, Nobles will be moving on. Things will not be easy for Wood and company as they are going up against Gunnery goaltender Trevin Kozlowski (92.5% save percentage). This one will be a low-scoring affair.
#5 Salisbury (20-4-2) at #4 Loomis-Chaffee (21-4-1)
In my opinion, the the most intriguing of the four quarterfinal games. These two Founders League rivals know each other very well but Loomis edged the 'Bury in their one matchup this season by a score of 2-1. If Salisbury wants to get one step closer to winning a third straight Elite 8 championship, they need Bailey MacBurnie (93% save percentage) to be on his game going against the Esposito brothers of Loomis. Alex (Vermont commit) and Eric (UNH commit) Esposito have combined for 68 points this season. Vimal Sukumaran (31 points) is the standout offensive player for the Crimson Knights of Salisbury. Expect a high-scoring, entertaining affair in Windsor, CT on Wednesday!