By Mike Zhe
Mike Levine knew he’d inherited some talent when he took over the hockey program at Kimball Union Academy prior to this year.
What that talent’s accomplished so far this season? He wasn’t sure if he was expecting that.
After Wednesday’s 6-1 win over Proctor Academy, KUA is sitting pretty with a 22-3-3 overall record. It has a terrific chance of making the eight-team New England tournament, which gets underway on the last day of the month.
“It’s always interesting when you take over a program,” said Levine (Canton, Mass.). “I knew we had talent. I was unsure of the success we’d have.”
The backbone of the team has been its defense. Two of those players are Boston University commits – junior Joseph Somerby and freshman John MacLeod. Junior Connor Evangelista has been solid and team captain Alex Carle, another junior, is the younger brother of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Carle.
On a roster that boasts just two seniors, juniors Casey Miller, Providence College-bound Niko Rufo, Gregg Burmaster and Nick Roberto have keyed the offense, which has gotten contributions throughout its lineup.
The Wildcats won their first seven games, but it wasn’t until they beat Salisbury, 2-1, at the Flood-Marr tournament in December, that the perception of them turned legit. They followed that up the next night with a 3-2 win over reigning New England champ Milton Academy.
“Those first seven wins, we were getting by on talent,” said Levine. “When we beat Salisbury, we thought this could be something special.”
The losses have been respectable, to Noble and Greenough (4-1), Cushing (3-2) and Holderness. At Holderness last Saturday, the second game in two days, the Wildcats were playing catch-up all game and couldn’t solve goalie Andy Monroe in a 3-2 loss.
Levine came to KUA from Division 3 Utica College, where he spent two years as a graduate assistant coach. Prior to that he spent four years as the head coach at New Hampton School, his alma mater.
And, while the invitations to the New England tourney are a closely-guarded secret, it’s tough to imagine the Wildcats not getting in and getting at least one more chance to test themselves against the best.
“Hopefully, we can continue to play well,” said Levine. “You have to realize what it’s like to battle every night.”
New England prep school power rankings
1. Lawrence Academy (19-2-2). Unbeaten streak is now at 15 games after wins over St. Sebastian’s (3-1) and Governor’s (6-3).
2. Salisbury School (19-3-0). Philip Zielonka, Marc Biega and John Stevens all scored as the Crimson Knights ran their win streak to nine with a 3-1 decision over Cushing at UMass on Sunday.
3. Noble and Greenough (16-3-1). Fifteen-game unbeaten streak ended in emphatic fashion, with losses to Governor’s (6-0) and St. Seb’s (5-2) last week.
4. Phillips Exeter (19-2-4). Big Red needed overtime to get past Northfield-Mt. Hermon on Wednesday, 4-3.
5. Kimball Union (22-3-3). Jonathan Charbonneau and Elie Vered each scored a pair of second-period goals in the Wildcats’ 6-1 win over Proctor Wednesday.
6. Belmont Hill (19-5-3). Jeremiah McCarthy’s squad looks to be back on track after sweeping Milton by scores of 5-0 and 7-3.
7. Avon Old Farms (16-5-1). Goals by Vincent Russo and Jackson Tucker helped Winged Beavers bounce back from 4-3 loss to Deerfield and beat Choate, 2-0. Huge game at Salisbury looms on Saturday.
8. Gunnery (18-5-1). The first goal of freshman Ryan Dmowski’s career was the game-winner in a 4-1 win over Pomfret Saturday.
9. Berkshire School (15-5-1). Brian Brown and Craig Puffer both scored twice as the Bears fought back from two goals down to beat Millbrook, 6-3, on Monday.
10. South Kent (14-8-1). A 5-2 win over Gunnery on Saturday was one of team’s best this season.
11. Choate (14-6-2). Wild Boars have only allowed more than two goals one time in last 10 games, and that was in a 3-1 loss to Avon.
12. Albany Academy (19-8-0). A trip to Gunnery on Saturday will be an excellent late-season test for the Cadets.
13. St. Paul's (14-9-0). Michael Pinios stopped 24 shots but it was enough in a 1-0 loss to St. Seb’s on Wednesday, the team’s second straight by a single goal.
14. Dexter School (16-8-1). Second-half run hit a couple speed bumps with a 3-0 loss to Tabor on Saturday and a 2-2 tie against Berwick on Wednesday.
15. Holderness (17-6-2). Andy Monroe’s goaltending keyed an impressive 3-2 win over Kimball Union on Saturday.
16. Cushing (16-9-2). Rough week saw losses to Tabor (7-4), Canterbury (8-2) and Salisbury (3-1)
17. St. Sebastian’s (11-8-2). David Loughborough’s goal was the only one of the game Wednesday in a 1-0 win over St. Paul’s.
18. Kent School (14-6-2). A 5-5 tie with Hotchkiss Wednesday extended team’s unbeaten streak to eight games (6-0-2).
19. Westminster (13-8-2). Two wins and a tie since tough, 2-0 loss to Avon on Feb. 1.
20. Governor’s (13-10-3). Goalie Brendan McMenimen made 32 saves as Governor’s shut out then-No. 1 Nobles, 6-0.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.