Neutral Zone Prep Hockey Poll: Week 10

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Salisbury (21-1-1) maintains its top seed as the teams head into the final week of the season. It defeated Kent and Avon this past week and has allowed just 11 goals against in the past eight games. Their size, depth, disciplined and balanced attack make them the team to beat.

In second is still Rivers (25-1-2), which defeated St. Mark’s, Exeter and Middlesex this week. Like Salisbury, Rivers has been difficult to score against, allowing only six goals against in the last nine games, or just 0.67 goals per game. They have 15 straight wins since dropping a game to Dexter in early January.

While Kimball Union (23-5-1) has five losses, it has faced a difficult schedule and is playing its best hockey of late. They recently earned wins over NEPSHIA competitors Proctor and No. 9 Cushing, while also tying Shattuck St. Mary’s. They are 13-2-0 in their last 15 NEPSHIA games, also defeating Northfield Mount Hermon and Exeter.

Dexter (19-4-2) is making a late push for home ice in the playoffs, winning 11 consecutive games while defeating Winchendon and Thayer. While Dexter’s strength of schedule is not as difficult as that of higher-ranked teams, it does have star players in each position and the best defenseman in the league in Jack Rathbone. The offense has recently been kickstarted, and Dexter has scored five or more goals in nine of the last 10.

Milton (17-3-1) drops to fifth after dropping a large third-period lead against Thayer en route to a loss. Prior to that match, the Mustangs had allowed just two goals or less in their last eight games. They play a well-disciplined, defense-first approach that has been highly effective this season. Milton will face Thayer again in a game that could determine home-ice advantage.

In sixth is Exeter (24-4-1), which had a difficult week against two ranked teams. They went 2-1 over that three-game stretch, defeating Deerfield and No. 7 Northfield Mount Hermon but losing to No. 2 Rivers. While Exeter struggles defensively, it is a deep team. They will face No. 10 Winchendon and then Andover on the road.

Northfield Mount Hermon (21-4-3) drops to seventh after going 2-1 on the weekend, defeating Loomis-Chaffee and Choate but falling to No. 5 Exeter. Just two of their losses this season were against non-ranked opponents. Northfield Mount Herman will play Andover and St. Paul this week.

After defeating St. Paul’s, Milton and Tabor this week, Thayer (15-9-1) extended its win streak to nine games. They’ve scored 49 goals in the last seven games, averaging seven goals per game. Thayer ends the week with No. 5 Milton and St. Sebastian’s, needing two wins to lock up an Elite Eight spot.

In ninth is Cushing (19-8-1), which hurt its Elite Eight chances by dropping a 4-1 decision to No. 3 Kimball Union. They are now 2-2 in their last four and are on the outside looking in. While Cushing’s record may not look stellar, eight losses were against Elite Eight teams in Kimball Union, Northfield Mount Hermon, Thayer, Salisbury and Dexter.

Winchendon (15-5-3) claims the last spot after falling to Dexter in what was likely a must-win match. They have No. 6 Exeter and Williston-Northampton left on the schedule, which are much-needed wins.

Just missing the poll this week are St. Sebastian’s, Lawrence Academy, Westminster, Brunswick and Gunnery. St. Sebastian’s has won four in a row but has struggled against ranked competition this season. Lawrence Academy suffered a loss to St. Paul’s and have now lost two of its last four, while Westminster dropped games to Loomis-Chaffee and Berkshire and have just one win in the past five. Brunswick moved closer to the poll after defeating Gunnery 5-1, which earned an impressive 6-2 win over Shattuck St. Mary’s.

This week’s poll:

1. Salisbury (21-1-1)
2. Rivers (25-1-2)
3. Kimball Union (23-5-1)
4. Dexter (19-4-2)
5. Milton (17-3-1)
6. Exeter (24-4-1)
7. Northfield Mount Hermon (21-4-3)
8. Thayer (15-9-1)
9. Cushing (19-8-1)
10. Winchendon (15-5-3)

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