Neutral Zone Prep Hockey Poll: Week 9

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Salisbury (19-1-1) retained the No. 1 spot. They defeated Taft but also suffered their first loss of the season against an underrated Loomis Chaffee team. They rebounded against Kent for a 4-2 win and are still the top team in the league.

Still in second is Rivers (22-1-2), which hasn’t lost since Jan. 3, 2018 against Dexter and is on a 12-game winning streak. But, their schedule hasn’t been as difficult, and a matchup against Exeter this week will reveal much about Rivers.

Milton (15-2-1) hasn’t lost since mid-December when it dropped a decision to Kimball Union. Milton took down Tabor, Nobles and Governors last week to stretch their unbeaten streak to 13 games. This week they’ll face a bigger challenge in Belmont Hill and Thayer.

Kimball Union (21-5-1) has five losses on its resume, including defeats against Vermont Academy and New Hampton. But the Wildcats also defeated Lakes Region rivals Holderness and New Hampton. Left on the schedule are Cushing and the Gunnery showcase. Kimball Union is a legitimate Elite Eight contender with its depth.

Exeter (22-3-1) took a step back after dropping consecutive decisions to Kimball Union and Cushing. But they responded by winning six straight, averaging over five goals per game over that stretch. Exeter can redeem itself with win over ranked Northfield Mount Hermon and Rivers this week.

Since becoming healthy, Dexter (15-4-2) has rolled to a 9-1-0 record in the last 10 games and is riding a seven-game unbeaten streak. Over that stretch, Dexter has scored 49 goals—averaging seven per game. Favored in their remaining games, they can move up the rankings and earn home ice in the playoffs. Dexter is a dangerous team with talent at every position.

In seventh is Northfield Mount Hermon (19-3-3), which just put up seven goals on a talented Winchendon squad. Thanks to Eric Green, the team has always been difficult to score against. But if they can score on the best as well, hey can make a deep playoff run. They will face Exeter and Loomis next, and a pair of wins would help their Elite Eight chances.

Cushing (19-3-3) has been inconsistent and has seven losses, but still has the talent to win. They dropped a pair of one-goal games to St. Paul’s and Northfield Mount Hermon and a pair of good goaltenders. Up next are Andover and Kimball Union.

Thayer (12-9-1) entered the season with high expectations but has struggled until recently. Thayer is on a six-game winning streak and has defeated St. Sebastian’s, Nobles, Belmont Hill and Lawrence Academy. To make the Elite Eight, Thater will most likely have to win at least four of their last five games. That attempt will begin on Friday against Milton.

Westminster (13-6-1) returned from break with a loss to Choate, a tie against Pomfret and a win against Hotchkiss, which could hurt its Elite Eight chances. They will face Loomis this week, which just defeated Salisbury and Berkshire at home. Westminster will also have Gunnery, Belmont Hill and Deerfield left in.

Just missing the poll this week are Winchendon, Lawrence Academy, St. Sebastian’s and Gunnery. Winchendon fell short against NMH in a 7-3 defeat. With Dexter, Exeter and Williston remaining on the schedule, Winchendon has a chance at a late push.

Lawrence Academy was on an eight-game winning streak and, after beating St. Sebastian’s last Friday, appeared ready to make the poll. But a loss to Thayer knocked them out of consideration. While St. Sebastian’s can win out the season, it won’t be facing enough quality opponents to move into the poll.

St. Sebastian’s looked poised for a second-half surge after their holiday tournament performance but has faltered of late, going 3-4 in its last seven. To earn an Elite Eight berth, St. Sebastian’s would have to win out, giving them a slim chance.

Gunnery is 1-3 in its last four with losses to Brunswick, Millbrook and Canterbury. While Gunner has a chance at home ice in the Small School playoffs, an Elite Eight appearance is a stretch.

This week’s poll:

1. Salisbury (19-1-1)
2. Rivers  (22-1-2)
3. Milton (15-2-1)
4. Kimball Union (21-5-1)
5. Exeter (22-3-1)
6. Dexter (15-4-2)
7. Northfield Mount Hermon (19-3-3)
8. Cushing (18-7-1)
9. Thayer (12-9-1)
10. Westminster (13-6-1)

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