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New England Prep Hockey Piatelli/Simmons (Small) Tournament Preview

Reilly Walsh
Reilly Walsh
Proctor Academy Hockey - @PAPucks

With Kimball Union, the defending NEPSIHA Piatelli/Simmons Tournament champion, onto the Elite 8, there will be a different champion crowned in the small division of New England prep hockey come this Sunday at Saint Anselm College.

St. Mark's is the No. 1 seed, but No. 2 Westminster is the favorite to capture the trophy, in this observer's opinion. Having seen the Martlets a few times, including in the Flood-Marr Tournament, there is no doubt they are the best team in the small tournament.

NEPSIHA Piatelli/Simmons Tournament Seeds:

1. St. Mark's

2. Westminster

3. Rivers

4. Proctor

5. Winchendon

6. Tilton

7. Vermont Academy

8. New Hampton

Why Westminster will win:

The Martlets played the best schedule of any team in this tournament by far. They are tested against some of the best teams in New England and have proven they can compete against the upper echelon. Westy started out the season much better than it finished record-wise, but look for Tim Joncas' squad to regroup and walk through the Piatelli/Simmons Tournament.

Joncas' team is led up front by St. Lawrence bound and 2015 NHL Draft prospect Taggart Corriveau. He hasn't scored as much as some scouts would have liked in his draft year, but he's a a great skater with nice size. He's created a lot of opportunities this season, but hasn't always been able to finish.

Senior Jack Fitzgerald is a player who can really produce offensively, He's headed to Amherst where he could potentially be a big time player in the NESCAC. He's another smooth skater with a nice first burst, but he's been hit or miss in some viewings. Another 2015 NHL Draft prospect, BU recruit Johnny McDermott, is another key piece to the puzzle offensively for the Martlets. He's the type of player who's good at the prep level, but projects even better further down the line.

The defense is led by junior Joe O'Connor, a Vermont recruit who is a solid all around blue liner. He's a competitor with toughness and a real head for the game. He's also good reading plays and handling the puck. Holy Cross commit Will Brophy and uncommitted Kevin O'Leary also headline the blue line.

Big Stephen Gasior, a junior from Skillman, NJ, will be the man between the pipes. His play is the biggest question mark in terms of how far Westminster can make it in the tournament.

What about St. Mark's?

The Lions are a little bit of a one-trick pony, only having one solid forward line and one decent defensive pairing. Uncommitted Adam Lee is a big-bodied winger who could impose his will in this tournament while Luke O'Brien and Zach Tsekos each have good hands and ability with the puck on their sticks.

Peter Housakos is good with the puck and starting the breakout, but the rest of the defense was prone to lapses in this observer's two viewings of St. Mark's. Sophomore Ryan Ferland doesn't have the size of some of the other elite goaltenders in New England, but he's solid and was a participant in last summer's USA Hockey Select 16 Festival.

Dark Horse:

Proctor is a team that battled consistency all season, but played well at times, including an upset win over Elite 8 No. 1 seed Exeter. '97 junior Jake Pappalardo, a Maine commit, is a skilled forward who leads the team in scoring, but look for the Hornets to start a lot of their offense from the blue line.

Uncommitted '99 Riley Walsh, the coach's son, leads the way in that department. He's very smooth, a fluid skater who can really distribute the puck both with his feet and passing. He has serious interest from a few Ivies, including Harvard, and a couple other schools. He's without a doubt one of the top uncommitted defenseman in prep hockey. Nick Albano and Matt Slick also are good puck-movers on defense, although it is believed Albano will be out with an injury.

Senior Beau Collins should get the start in net, despite splitting time during the regular season with junior Connor Simpson.

Predictions:

First Round:

No. 1 St. Mark's 4, New Hampton 2

No. 2 Westminster 7, Vermont Academy 2

No. 3 Rivers 3, No. 6 Tilton 2

No. 4 Proctor 6, No. 5 Winchendon 4

Semifinals:

No. 4 Proctor 5, No. 1 St. Mark's 4

No. 2 Westminster 6, No. 3 Rivers 2

Championship Game:

No. 2 Westminster 5, No. 4 Proctor 3

Piatelli/Simmons Tournament Champions: WESTMINSTER

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.