Boys Division 1 Prep Poll
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A quick glance shows that numerous teams should be in the fight to become the New England Elite Division champion come March. It should be an exciting ride.
There will be some changes come playoff time. Semifinals will now be hosted by the higher seed on Saturday, March 1st, with the New England championship games slated for Yale University on Sunday, March 2nd, instead of the longtime home of the prep tournament – the Icenter in Salem, NH.
Last March, Salisbury School won the Elite Division crown, and with it the de facto title of top team in boys prep school hockey. The Crimson Knights will stay in that position as the new season kicks off.
The key for Salisbury will be to settle on a starting goaltender, with Callum Booth moving on to junior hockey. Brothers Evan (38 pts) and Mitch (25 pts) Smith will spearhead things offensively, while the Crimson Knights boast one of the top two-way blueliners in prep school hockey in senior Will Toffey (38 pts).
And, you can be sure that coach Andy Will has brought in a talented cast of newcomers ready to blend into the Salisbury way.
There certainly will be plenty of competition for bragging rights, starting with #2 Gunnery. The Highlanders have been amongst the top echelon clubs the past few winters and this should not be an exception. Princeton-bound senior Joey Fallon (28 pts) will lead the attack, along with Kevin Darrar and Ryan Dmowski.
#3 Berkshire will also be a going concern. The Bears lost just four games last year, including a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker to Salisbury in the Elite quarterfinals. Coach Dan Driscoll boasts what may be the premier line in prep school hockey in seniors Charlie Corcoran, Craig Puffer and Tipper Higgins, all Division I commits.
Last year’s top team heading into the post-season, #4 Kimball Union, is still smarting from a first round loss in the playoff round. The Wildcats lost some talent, including head coach Mike Levine (now at Brown), but there is still plenty left in the cupboard for new head coach Tim Whitehead, including Boston College recruit J.D. Dudek. KUA is another team that will have a new goaltender to start the season.
Plenty of coaches said to keep an eye on #5 Phillips Exeter. The Big Red has some guys that can put the puck in the net, and a talented, young blue line. Like the teams above, a new starting goalie will have to emerge, with Michael Lackey moving on to the USNDP in Ann Arbor.
A finalist in the Elite Tournament last winter, #6 Kent is team that must be watched. The Lions will be under new management as Dale Reinhardt has taken over behind the bench. Look for senior forward Brendan Soucie, recently committed to Army, to be a leader.
#7 Belmont Hill was a playoff quarterfinalist last season and definitely will be in the mix again, with UConn-bound forward Will Galonka (42 pts) leading the offense and the returning trio of Tyler Granara, Danny Kelly and Charlie Barrows taken care of matters in the defensive zone in front of returning goaltender Ryan McConnell.
A lot of high-end talent has moved on from #8 Cushing, but the Penguins still have lots of talent and are a solid group under head coach Rob Gagnon. Expect them to be right in the middle of things.
The up-and-coming team to watch this season could be #9 Thayer. All but one player returns to a team that won 15 games last season, including blue-chip forward Lincoln Griffin. You can be sure coach Tony Amonte will have this group ready to go.
A team never to be counted out is #10 Avon Old Farms. The Winged Beavers will have their usual tough club, capable of beating anyone on a given day.
With 17 varsity returners, there is plenty of optimism at #11 Choate. Coach Pat Dennehy welcomes back four of his top five scorers, the whole blue line crew, and starting goalie Sam Tucker.
#12 Westminster qualified for the Elite tournament last year and reached the semifinals. A good nucleus returns, so don’t count the Martlets out.
Rounding out the HNIB News Top 15 pre-season poll will be #13 Dexter School, led by star forward Ryan Donato (60 pts); #14 Loomis Chaffee, ready to for even more improvement this winter; and defending NE Small School champion Brooks at #15.