February Playoff Race: Part Two

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As the calendar shifts to mid-to-late February, the playoff race heats up. We have the latest on where teams stand, what the big games of the week are and who will make it.

Elite Eight Playoffs

NZ Projection:

1. Salisbury
2. Rivers
3. Milton
4. Kimball Union
5. Dexter
6. Exeter
7. Cushing
8. Northfield Mount Hermon

In the Race: Westminster, Thayer, Winchendon

While anything can happen in February, the top four teams here are poised to make the Elite Eight. Kimball Union and Milton will be fighting off Exeter and Dexter for home ice in the opening round, but they will definitely make the playoffs. Dexter’s remaining schedule will allow them to win out, secure a spot in the playoffs and possibly steal home-ice advantage from Milton or Kimball Union. Exeter has a few big games left, facing Northfield Mount Hermon, Rivers and Winchendon, all of whom are in the Elite Eight hunt. If Exeter can win those games, they can jump over Milton and Kimball Union. But if Exeter loses, they could drop out of the Elite Eight. The last two teams in the race are Cushing and Northfield Mount Hermon, who also have crucial games this week. Northfield Mount Hermon faces Exeter while Cushing faced Kimball Union.

The three teams not currently in the Elite Eight who have the best chance at getting in are Westminster, Thayer and Winchendon. Westminster will play a string of quality teams in their final five games, facing Loomis, Berkshire, Gunnery, Belmont Hill and Deerfield. If Westminster can win, it will likely earn an Elite Eight bid. It’s possible, but not easy. Thayer is one of the hottest teams in prep hockey and has an unmatched top line, but will face St. Paul’s, Milton, Tabor, Milton and St. Sebastian’s as the season ends. They’ll likely need to win four of the last five games, which is possible if they continue playing the way they have lately. Finally, Winchendon has only lost four games and is barely outside the Elite Eight. But they only have four games left–contests against Holderness, Dexter, Exeter and Williston. They’d have to win at least three of those games, which won’t be an easy task.

Large School Playoffs 

NZ Projection:

1. Westminster
2. Thayer
3. St. Sebastian’s
4. Brunswick
5. Williston
6. Trinity Pawling
7. Nobles & Greenough
8. Berkshire

In the Race: Avon, Loomis Chaffee, Tabor 

The Large School Playoff race depends on who makes the Elite Eight, but if the season ended today, these are the teams who would be in the hunt. The field is close from top to bottom, and even Westminster wouldn’t make the tournament if it lost all remaining games. But Westminster and St. Sebastian’s have the most favorable schedules out of the top teams, while Brunswick and Thayer having tougher schedules. The next three teams had strong starts to the season but have struggled of late. Nobles is 1-4 in its last five, with losses against Rivers, Thayer, Milton and Tabor. Williston is 1-6 in its last seven and Trinity-Pawling is 1-2-2 in its last five. The bottom team that no one will want to face is the surging Berkshire Bears, who are 7-2 in their last nine with losses to No. 1 Salisbury and Avon. They are winning games and defeating teams like Kent, Brunswick and Canterbury to set up a late-season push up the Large School playoff board.

There are teams on the outside who still have a chance of making the playoffs, especially given how they’re playing of late. Avon is young but highly talented and, despite playing inconsistently, has six games left and just one against a ranked team. Loomis, like Berkshire, struggled early on but has won six of its last seven and knocked off top-ranked Salisbury last week. Their remaining four games, against Westminster, Northfield Mount Hermon, Choate and Avon, won’t be easy, but they can move into the playoffs with three wins. Lastly, Tabor is a .500 team that has shown it can play against the best with wins over Thayer, St. Sebastian’s and Nobles. Tabor will also likely need at least three wins as it takes on St. Sebastian’s Thayer, Belmont Hill and Lawrence Academy to close out the season.

Small School Playoffs

NZ Projection:

1. Winchendon
2. Gunnery
3. Lawrence Academy
4. New Hampton
5. Millbrook
6. St. Mark’s
7. Proctor
8. Canterbury

In the Race: Kent’s Hill, Vermont Academy, Tilton

The Small School playoff picture is a tight race similar to the Large School, but there is more separation between the top half and bottom half teams. Winchendon and Gunnery have difficult schedules remaining, though. Lawrence Academy has been playing some of its best hockey of late. New Hampton has just three games left, but its season finale at Cushing may be a must-win game for home ice. Millbrook could surprise during the playoffs, as it is currently riding a four-game winning streak, defeating teams like Loomis, Gunnery and Williston. They have five games remaining before the Empire Cup, with four on the road, but with their recent success, they are well positioned to make a bid for home ice in the playoffs. St. Mark’s is 7-1 in its last eight games, with the only defeat a one-goal loss to Dexter. They have six games remaining and will face No. 2 Rivers, No. 7 Cushing and Lawrence Academy. Proctor is 5-1 in its last six and have just two games left. Canterbury has one of the toughest schedules remaining, facing Williston, Kent, Avon and Salisbury.

Three teams are in the race for the playoffs. Kent’s Hill was 8-1 in its last nine losing to Proctor and New Hampton last week. That could cost them, but they face Hebron twice and Pomfret and Dexter as the season closes. If they win three of those games, they should have a solid chance to make the playoffs. Vermont Academy started the year 6-1 but embarked on a nine-game winless streak in January before defeating Bishops College. With three games remaining Vermont Academy has a chance but also needs some luck. Tilton, like Vermont, is not playing its best hockey of late. They are on a five-game losing streak and are 2-9 in their last 11. But they have the most favorable schedule remaining, which gives them a chance.

Games to Watch This Week:

Wednesday; February 14

Millbrook @ Trinity-Pawling: Playoff implications
Westminster @ Loomis: Playoff implications, both teams on outside
Tabor @ St. Sebastian’s: Playoff implications
Exeter @ NMH: Elite Eight playoff implications
St. Mark’s @ Rivers: Playoff implications
Canterbury @ Williston: Playoff implications
Vermont @ New Hampton: Small School & Lakes Region playoff implications

Friday, February 16

Rivers @ Exeter: Elite 8 playoff implications
Winchendon @ Dexter: Elite 8 playoff implications
Thayer @ Milton: Elite 8 Playoff implications

Saturday, February 17

St. Mark’s @ Lawrence Academy: Playoff implications
New Hampton @ Proctor: Small School & Lakes Region playoff
Berkshire @ Westminster: Playoff implications
Salisbury @ Avon: Playoff implications
Loomis Chaffee @ NMH: Playoff implications
Kimball Union @ Cushing: Elite 8 playoff implications
Tabor @ Thayer: Playoff implications
Kents Hill @ Dexter: Playoff implications

Sunday, February 18

Brunswick @ Gunnery: Playoff implications

*Bolded games are games of the week

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