By Mike Zhe
Babson coach Jamie Rice laughs when he talks about the speech he gave to his 2011-12 team, the one that got to play an unprecedented game at Fenway Park against Norwich on Jan. 13, 2012.
The result was a 4-1 loss. But the saddest part came afterward, when Rice realized the Beavers would likely go back to the end of the line when it came time to schedule more Fenway games.
That’s what he told his players. So he happily got to eat some crow this past offseason when the schedule for another Frozen Fenway was announced, and his team was again a part of it.
“Unbelievable,” said Rice (Newton, Mass.). “They made a liar of me. I told the kids last time, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Babson is indeed back for another Fenway shot – against Norwich, no less, in a terrific matchup – and so are four other Division 3 teams next week, as the small colleges take the big stage so many of them attended for Red Sox games growing up.
The hockey games are pretty good, too.
The action starts with a doubleheader on Tuesday, Jan. 7, when UMass-Boston (6-1-2) and Salem State (6-3) play a non-conference game at 4 p.m. NESCAC rivals Williams (5-0-2) and Trinity (6-2) face off at 7:30 p.m.
Two days later, it will be Babson (9-2) and Norwich (7-1-2) resuming their ECAC East rivalry, a rematch of both last year’s league championship game – won by the Beavers – and an NCAA quarterfinal game, which the Cadets claimed. Both took place in Northfield, Vt.
There’s not a bad game in the bunch, with high stakes for each of the six teams. Wins won’t be guaranteed, but memories to last forever will.
“I was a Yankees fan growing up,” said Williams standout goalie Sean Dougherty, who grew up on Long Island. “But going to Milton (Academy) and being that close to it, it’s made me appreciate the rich history there is.”
Norwich and Babson became the first Division 3 teams to ever play a game outdoors at Fenway two years ago. Several players on both teams are playing at Fenway for a second time, most notably seniors Shane Gorman, who scored twice for the Cadets in the first meeting, and Parker Carroll, who was the winner in goal.
Across the country, Division 3 teams get back to action this weekend after long holiday breaks. After nothing but practices these last few weeks, they’ll be eager to start the second half on a good note.
But for the six teams with special invitations to the ballyard on Yawkey Way, it’s tough not to look ahead.
“I was there for a (Red Sox) playoff game in October,” said Rice, “and the first thing I thought of was we were going to play here again. Isn’t that cool?”
Game of the Week
Salem State Tournament, first round, Babson vs. Salem State, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Lot of potentially great final matchups in four-team tournaments across the region, but the set-in-stone first-round game we like pits the Beavers and Vikings. The winner will play resurgent Colby or Wentworth for the title on Friday.
Babson is looking to start off second half strong and take momentum into Fenway. Salem State wants to become a contender in a wide-open MASCAC.
NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Williams (5-0-2, 4-0-2 NESCAC)
Ephs will put unbeaten record on the line vs. Hobart and, potentially, No. 1 Plattsburgh at Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh, N.Y., this weekend.
2. Norwich (7-1-2, 6-0-1 ECAC East)
Milwaukee School of Engineering (1-10) is not exactly a western power that’s coming to town for the first round of the Northfield Bank tourney Friday.
3. Babson (9-2, 5-1 ECAC East)
Sophomore goalie Jamie Murray (Scituate, Mass.) has been tremendous, ranking seventh nationally in goals-against (1.31) and save percentage (.948).
4. Amherst (6-2, 5-1
A win against Plymouth State Friday would likely set up a tasty final against Norwich at the Northfield Bank.
5. UMass-Boston (6-1-2, 3-1-2 ECAC East)
Would be a shocker if streaking Beacons couldn’t get past Tufts, Suffolk and Southern New Hampshire in its Codfish Bowl this weekend.
6. Trinity (6-2, 3-1
Bantams foray into the ECAC Northeast for games against Becker (Friday) and Western New England (Saturday).
7. Nichols (7-1-2, 3-1-1 ECAC
Good tests this weekend for the Bison at ECAC East teams Skidmore and Castleton State.
8. Bowdoin (5-3-1, 2-3-1
Polar Bears won’t play until next Tuesday, when they entertain in-state foe University of New England.
9. Johnson & Wales
(9-3, 3-2-0 ECAC Northeast)
Next Thursday’s game at UMass-Boston will make it 26 days between games for the Wildcats, who closed the first semester strong.
State (6-3-1, 4-1-1 MASCAC)
Rams closed first half on a three-game win streak.