By Matt Noonan
BABSON PARK, Mass. – Sunday will be a special day for Babson College’s men’s ice hockey team, which will host its first NCAA quarterfinal matchup since 1992.
The Beavers will welcome Oswego State to the Babson Skating Center for a 3 p.m. face-off, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s semifinals.
“We’re thrilled to be in the tournament,” said Babson head coach Jamie Rice, who guided the Beavers to a 22-4-2 overall record this season, as well as their second straight ECAC East crown.
“To be one of the teams still standing is really – the best description is really proud.”
Babson has advanced to the NCAA tournament prior to this season, but hasn’t claimed some hardware since winning the inaugural Division 3 Championship in 1984 against Union College. Since that particular contest, the Beavers have come up short in either the semifinals, quarterfinals or first-round.
The Beavers appeared in the quarterfinals last season, but fell short to ECAC East rival Norwich University, 4-0. Babson could see the Cadets next weekend, but they’d have to win Sunday’s meeting against the Lakers followed by a semifinal contest against the winner of St. Thomas (Minn.) vs. Wisconsin Stevens-Point.
“We kind of have tunnel focus for this week,” said Rice when asked about the possibility of advancing to the semifinals.
Focusing on Sunday’s opponent will be the main objective for Rice’s squad this week. They’ll spend the next few days preparing for a team they haven’t seen this season, but did face in the 1990-91 NCAA tournament first-round. Babson won both contests before falling to UW-Stevens Point in the quarterfinals.
Rice does recall playing against Oswego State when he competed with the Beavers as a student-athlete, so he certainly knows the Lakers will be a tough challenge.
“(Oswego) has been very good, along with Plattsburgh State and the other SUNYAC (teams),” said Rice. “I probably have a little more familiarity with these programs, but they’re all in the national tournament, so they’re all really good.”
The Lakers earned a trip to Babson Park following a 4-3 first-round victory this afternoon against Bowdoin College. Prior to their meeting with the Polar Bears, Oswego State won five straight contests, including three tournament games against Fredonia, Geneseo and Plattsburgh State. The Lakers won each tournament contest by one goal.
Matt Galati leads the Lakers with 34 points. He’s recorded 23 goals and 11 assists this season, while Alex Botten has recorded 33 points (10 goals and 23 assists). Bobby Gertsakis leads the squad with 25 assists.
Matt Zawadzki, who picked up his 14th win between the pipes this afternoon, has logged a little over 1,000 minutes in net and has turned away 455 of 496 shots. He’s played in 21 games this season and has posted three shutouts.
Babson’s Mike Driscoll leads the Green and White in points (25). He and Nik Tasiopoulos each recorded a team-best 12 goals, while Michael Phillips finished with 16 assists, which is a team-high.
Jamie Murray, who was named the conference’s goaltender and player of the year, turned away 735 of 774 shots. He appeared in 27 games and owns a 21-4-2 record.
“We’ve played three really hard games leading into this tournament, but a hard season, too,” said Rice.
With a few months of competitive hockey in the books, along with some great memories on and off the ice, Rice is excited for his team to compete on Sunday afternoon. He certainly doesn’t want this season to conclude because he wants to return to the team’s home ice the following day for practice, an event he looks forward to each day.
“(Our team) is a family,” said Rice. “I love coming to the rink. My family and Babson hockey is the only two things that live in my world, but at the end of the day, I have joked and said, ‘I just want to have another week of practice’ because I enjoy being around these guys so much and they (provide me) with so much happiness and so much joy and it’s a thrill to do this with these kids.”
Monday’s practice time hasn’t been announced, but Rice will certainly let his team know when to report. In the meantime, practice will be held tomorrow and Saturday followed by a quarterfinal matchup in Babson’s backyard.
“Again, we’re thrilled to be in the tournament and to have the opportunity to keep playing and have a shot at what every team’s goal is from the start of their season,” said Rice. “It’s exciting to be sitting here and knowing that come (late Sunday afternoon) we’ll have the chance to be one of four teams left.”