NZ Prep Poll & Playoff Outlook

As the calender moves to the second half of February, playoffs become the main focus for teams across the league. Here we’ll walk through where teams stand today, what games have the highest playoff implications and a run-down of projections as we head into the final weeks of the regular season.

NZ Prep Poll

1. Avon Old Farms (19-2-1) – The Winged Beavers may have lost to rival Salisbury this Saturday in a disappointing effort but the reality is the two teams behind them (KUA & Cushing) also lost this week to a rival team. They remain the only team left in prep hockey with only two losses. Three games this week; two of which against playoff contenders in Canterbury and Loomis. Avon has a chance to be a top seed in the Elite 8 with a 3-0 run this week and even two wins will secure a home ice in the Elite 8.

2. Kimball Union (25-3-0) – The Wildcats snapped a nine-game win streak to #3 Cushing in a 5-3 loss at home but bounced back to defeat the Penguins the next night at their barn in a 4-2 victory. They head into the Lakes Region playoffs this weekend; a tournament they have dominated for nearly a decade and return as the defending champions. They are a lock for the Elite 8 with the Lakes Region playoffs having an impact on seeding but another title could secure the top ranking.

3. Cushing Academy (24-3-0) – The Penguins entered this past week on a 14-game win streak and went on the road for back to back wins against Andover and KUA to start the week but ended with a loss in a rematch game against the Wildcats at home. They have likely secured home ice for the Elite 8 and have a chance to take the #1 seed after they face New Hampton and Governors this week. Cushing may have had a setback on Saturday but this team is rolling as they head into the Elite 8 playoffs.

4. Brunswick (20-3-2) – If the season ended today Brunswick would play at home in the opening round of the Elite 8 and could make an argument for leaping Cushing and Kimball Union going 5-0 in their last five matches with wins over Salisbury, Berkshire and Frederick Gunn twice who are all playoff bound teams. They have one more game Saturday against Trinity Pawling and are likely to remain a home seed in the Elite 8 opening round; a real contender down the stretch.

5. St. Georges (21-3-1) – St. George’s extended their win streak to seven games and 12-1-0 in the past 13 contests. The Dragons secured an ISL Eberhart title with a win over Groton this week and will face St. Mark’s and Middlesex this week. If they run the table they’ll secure their seeding in the Elite 8. One of the scarier teams for a home seed in the Elite 8 because they have the coaching, team speed, goaltending and the depth to play with anyone in the league.

6. Holderness School (22-3-0) – The Bulls bounced back after their losses to Kimball Union to run the tbale this week going 3-0 and outscoring their opponents 15:4. They have a big game against Dexter to close out their regular season on Wednesday and then Lakes Region playoffs Friday. A win against Dexter likely secures their Elite 8 berth regardless of the Lakes Region playoffs but a loss could make the Lakes Region playoffs a must-win. Like St. George’s, the Bulls are a team who can upset a top ranked team in the early round with their team speed and offensive firepower. They already have a victory over #3 Cushing and tight games with #2 Kimball Union but the next week will determine their playoff matchups.

7. Salisbury School (16-5-1) – Salisbury is coming off a big week where they faced off against #4 Brunswick and had a lead going into the third period but fell late and then rebounded to defeat #1 ranked Avon Old Farms to put themselves back into the Elite 8 picture. The Crimson Knights continue to show they can play with the best teams in the league after a 5-1 win over Avon Old Farms which may have secured them an Elite 8 berth. Their game on Monday on the road at Berkshire will have major playoff ramifications for both teams and they close out their season against Hotchkiss and Winchendon. A lot can happen in the final week of the season but they could theoretically get home ice in Elite 8 or not make it all-together.

8. St. Sebastians (18-6-1) – The Arrows remain hot going 9-1-1 in their last 11 games including back to back to back wins against playoff bound teams in St. Mark’s, Belmont Hill and Lawrence Academy. One of the top offenses in prep hockey they are firing on all cylinders averaging over six goals per game in their last six games. If the season ended today they would be the final seed in the Elite 8 but they have two more games to play against Lawrence Academy and rival Thayer; will likely need to run the table to secure their Elite 8 playoff berth.

9. Belmont Hill (16-8-1) – Belmont Hill returns to the top 10 to end the season with an impressive run with four straight wins against ISL rivals averaging over six goals per game in that stretch. They still have three games remaining and would need a lot to go in their favor to make the Elite 8; but they’ll be a tough team to beat in the Large School if they continue to play at their recent form. The Hilltoppers are coming off a big win against Noble & Greenough and will close out the season against Tabor, Dexter and Westminster.

10. Dexter (15-7-2) – Dexter has been a bit of a hot/cold type team and while they are finishing the season on a 6-4-0 run in their last 10 games; they are currently riding a 3-game win streak and are within striking distance of an Elite 8 berth. Their playoff fate will ride on the final two games of the season where they’ll face playoff bound Holderness and Belmont Hill. Running the table this week – with a few other outcomes could put this team into the Elite 8. One of the key teams to watch this upcoming week as their outcomes will create a chain effect throughout the league.

Key Games with Playoff Implications

There are several angles to consider when looking at Prep Playoffs. NZ has long been a believer in moving to an RPI or pairwise based system of playoffs that are equal for everyone but NEPSHIA determines Elite 8 by a JSPR formula and then Large School / Small School through an RPI based formula. With that being said, there are several factors that are significant. Wins against teams with a winnning record (.500+), wins over teams-under-consideration (Top 16 in RPI). Therefore, going into the last week, the teams that are on the bubble of .500 are teams to watch because they have a trickle effect across the league as every win over a .500+ team gains more weight in the RPI and same in the reverse if they are .500 today but lose twice into the last week then every team with a win over them loses a bit of steam in the RPI rankings.

Who are the bubble .500 (+/- 1 game) teams and who do they play this week?

Tilton (13-12-1), Kents Hill (13-13-1), Middlesex (13-12-0) and Milton Academy (11-12-3).

2/21 – Milton @ Thayer

2/21 – Middlesex @ Groton

2/24 – Noble & Greenough @ Milton

2/24 – Middlesex @ St. George’s

** Kents Hill and Tilton have no more scheduled games listed but have Holt and Lakes Region playoffs.

Elite 8 Implication Games

2/19 – Salisbury @ Berkshire

2/21 – Canterbury @ Avon Old Farms

2/21 – St. George’s @ St. Mark’s

2/21 – Lawrence @ St. Sebastian’s

2/21 – Dexter @ Holderness

2/23 – Belmont Hill @ Dexter

2/24 – Loomis Chaffee @ Avon Old Farms

** Lakes Region Playoffs 2/24 (depending on if it’s a Holderness vs. KUA matchup)

Other Important Games for Seedings

2/21 – Kent @ Deerfield

2/24 – Groton @ St. Mark’s

2/24 – Exeter @ Andover

2/24 – Berkshire @ Frederick Gunn

Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images