Ian Clark's High School Hockey: A sprint for final playoff spots
THERE ARE just 10 days remaining in the NHIAA hockey regular season and plenty of playoff spots remain up for grabs.
In the boys’ Division I and II ranks, the top 10 teams will make the playoffs, with No. 7 facing No. 10 and No. 8 playing No. 9 in the first round while the top six receive byes.
In Division III, it’s a straight-up eight-team tournament. In the girls’ division, six teams qualify, with No. 1 and No. 2 receiving byes.
In Division I, the top four teams of Salem (11-1-1), Londonderry (12-2-0), St. Thomas of Dover (12-2-1) and Trinity of Manchester (10-3-0) seem secure on higher perches, but their order is still subject to change.
Mark down March 1 as a potential showdown for the No. 1 seed when Londonderry plays at Salem.
As for the other dozen teams in the field, 10 will vie for the final six spots and are separated by just three wins from No. 5 Manchester Memorial (7-4-3) to No. 12 Exeter (4-9-1).
“From six through 11 and 12, it’s going to be a battle for those last spots,” said Pinkerton coach Joey Lee, whose team is in 10th at 4-7-2. “There’s a lot of parity. We’ve been playing playoff hockey for a while. We look to the top of the league and see that we can give a game to any of them.”
In Division II, Wednesday’s late game between top-ranked Bedford (15-0-0) and No. 2 Spaulding of Rochester (13-2-0) was big, as a win for the Bulldogs would have left them untouchable for the No. 1 seed.
The struggle at spots three to six will be key as those teams are within three wins of one another, but they are set for making the postseason.
That leaves six teams with a shot at the final four berths.
“I’ve been kind of mapping out where our seed is going to be depending how other teams finish out,” said Merrimack coach Kurt Mithoefer, those team is 7-7-0 in eighth place. “We’ll have to get a play-in game in the playoffs and then it’s an extra game for the road to the (championship round).”
Division III’s top three (Souhegan of Amherst at 11-1-0, Belmont-Gilford at 13-2-0 and Berlin at 12-2-0) are set, as are the middle four.
That leaves four teams vying for the final spot, with last-place Manchester West (0-11-0) very much alive with five games to play. ConVal of Peterborough (2-11-1) currently holds the No. 8 slot.
In the girls’ ranks, the top four of four-time defending champion Hanover (11-1-0), Berlin-Gorham (12-2-1), Lebanon (11-3-0) and Oyster River (9-4-1) are secure.
The final two playoff berths will be fought for by six teams, with only ConVal (0-14-0) out of the running.
The playoffs begin Wednesday, March 5, for Division I and II boys’ action, Saturday, March 8, for DIII and Friday, March 7, for the girls.
It all culminates in four state championship games Saturday, March 15, at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Pink presentation: The presentation of the money raised from St. Thomas’ annual “Pink Game” to Dana-Farber Cancer Center representatives will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the school. It was rescheduled due to inclement weather this week.
Pond Skate: Members of the Pinkerton hockey team joined in the town of Derry’s 15th annual “Frost festival” on Sunday and skated with youngsters on Beaver Lake.
Ian Clark covers high school hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is email@example.com.