Dan Donato Returns to Where it All Started: Dexter at Salisbury
Dan Donato was hired as the head coach for both baseball and hockey at Salisbury School in 2001. In six seasons at the helm led them to unprecedented success, winning a New England championship in 2006 and graduating players to top schools. For family reasons and to see a new challenge, Donato returned to Boston to take over Dexter. In just a few years, the school began competing against top teams in the area.
Meanwhile at Salisbury, former Division I coach Andrew Will took over the program and won four championships in nine seasons. The team has reached the playoffs year after year and has developed a number of NCAA commitments. Will has the highest winning percentage of any coach over the past nine seasons.
Donato and Will coached against each other in the 2016 Elite Eight finals, named after former Salisbury coach Matt Corkery, who had hired both Donato and Will. Salisbury won, but Dexter got its revenge in the 2017 Elite Eight semifinals. This is the third time in row the pair will coach against each other in the Elite Eight.
This season will be a clash between teams of different styles. Salsibury is big, strong and physical with depth and a disciplined style. Dexter, though, is a fast and skilled team with defensemen who can join the rush and punish teams in transition.
Dexter’s best chance of winning comes from using its speed to draw penalties. They have one of the best goaltenders in the league and a star player in Jack Rathbone. But, Salisbury will succeed if it can get pucks behind the defense and cycle below the dots. Peter Deliberatore has also played well for the Knights all season.
An Elite Eight Finals Rematch: Kimball Union at Rivers
Kimball Union faced Rivers last season for the first time in the Elite Eight Championship game, and Tim Whitehead’s Wildcats proved they were the best team with a 6-2 win. Some of those key players graduated, but both teams retained a majority of their roster. The teams didn’t meet during the regular season, leaving this as Rivers’ first chance at revenge. While Rivers has a better record, Kimball Union has faced a tougher schedule.
Kimball Union is missing one of their top players in Christian Felton, but the Wildcats are coming off a dominating win over Exeter. They have a skill and depth advantage over Rivers and a talented defense that is tough to get around. Rivers is a well-balanced, hardworking team that is built from the goal out. Aiden Porter is one of the league’s top goaltenders.
While Porter gives Rivers an undeniable advantage, Kimball Union’s top line could be the difference maker.
Large School Finals
Thayer at St. Sebastian’s
This may be the most exciting game in the playoffs. Thayer defeated St. Sebastian’s 4-1 in January, but St. Sebastian’s won 4-3 in overtime in the last game of the season, knocking Thayer out of the Elite Eight.
Brunswick at Northfield Mount Hermon
These teams last faced off in December of 2015, when Brunswick earned a 5-0 win. Christian LeSeur had two goals and Eric Green earned his first full start of the season.
Green has been the backbone of Northfield Mount Hermon, which plays a disciplined, defense-first game. Brunswick has great defense and offense. Both teams are 4-3 in the last seven, but Brunswick’s skill and balanced roster will mostly likely outmatch Northfield Mount Hermon.
New Hampton vs. Winchendon
Winchendon has faced New Hampton twice this season, sweeping the series by a combined margin of 12-5. They both have excellent top line players who create most of the scoring chances. Both teams play fast, and this will likely be a back-and-forth affair. While Winchendon is the favorite, New Hampton has wins over Elite Eight semifinalists Dexter and Kimball Union.
Lawrence at Gunnery
Both teams had a chance to make the Elite Eight but did not win some much-needed games. But both programs have gained momentum late in the season. Both teams have size, finish checks and defend well. Both teams have struggled to score but feature good goaltending and an evenly-matched blue line. Gunnery is the favorite, but shutting down Lawrence Academy’s top lines will be a tough task.