BOSTON — Babson coach Jamie Rice stood on the field at Fenway Park, about where the on-deck circle will be for the visiting teams in three months, and soaked it in one last time on Friday night.
His team had just lost to Norwich, 4-1, a game held in the grandest of outdoor venues but playing out like so many Babson-Norwich games of recent vintage: Down 1-0 early, the top-ranked Cadets (11-1-1, 7-1 ECAC East) began buzzing, throwing pucks at the net and cashing in enough to pull away.
But it was hard for anyone to feel like a loser after a day like this.
Both teams raved about their participation in the recently-concluded two weeks known as SunLife Frozen Fenway, which featured an almost daily slate of college, prep and high school games. Rains may have washed out Thursday’s practices, but the Beavers arrived at Fenway at 6:45 a.m. Friday to get a skate on the temporary rink they’d be playing on later in the afternoon.
“The kids were just flying,” said Rice, who grew up in Newton, Mass., and played at Babson in the late 1980s. “The skates were eight inches off the ice. And then to come back here (for the game) … it’s emotional.
“I think all of us who grew up in this area and spent a lot of time coming to the park — at least before the pink hats took all the tickets — we always wondered, ‘What if?’ What if I was better in Little League or Babe Ruth or high school? This is as close as we’ll get.”
The game was just as big for Norwich, which had two Vermont TV stations in tow as it chases its third straight trip to the Division 3 Frozen Four and fourth national championship. The announced attendance of 7,250 was beefed up by the crowd coming in for the late game between ECAC Hockey rivals Harvard and Union, but featured pockets of fans from both small colleges.
But Babson was the home team, in more ways than one.
The Beavers (4-11, 4-4 ECAC East) started the game with five Massachusetts natives on the ice: forwards P.T. Donato (Arlington, Mass.) and Trevor Hines (Newburyport, Mass.), defensemen Ryan Heavey (Andover, Mass.) and Tom Callahan (Lakeville, Mass.), and goalie Zeke Testa (Wellesley, Mass.)
Senior captain Mike Hoban, who was denied on a breakaway with his team trailing 2-1 early in the second period, grew up in Medfield, Mass., skating outside at Kingsbury Pond or on a sheet of ice in the local cemetery.
“I think our compete level has been there,” he said. “We’ve been staying positive, which is good, but we’ve got to come every night and work harder than any other team. Our record’s not where we want it to be.”
Hoban would lead by example day later, scoring the overtime game-winner in a 4-3 win over St. Michael that snapped a six-game losing streak.
But Friday — or at least the last 50 minutes on the ice — belonged to Norwich.
Sophomore Shane Gorman and freshman Doug Lindensmith both scored twice, as the Cadets squared the game 12 minutes in and went from there. Junior forward and leading scorer Kyle Thomas (Waltham, Mass.) had a couple assists.
“Credit Norwich,” said Rice. “Good teams find a way to win. Good players find a way to make plays. Kyle Thomas — every time we play him his eyes get as big as saucers.”
Darkness had long fallen by the time Rice headed back across the field to the Red Sox dugout and, eventually, his team’s locker room. An organ version of the Cure’s “In Between Days” boomed across the public address.
As games go, the result was one a lot of people probably expected.
As days go, though, it was one the Babson program will remember forever.
“It was just an unbelievable atmosphere and a great thing to be a part of,” said Rice. “Fenway treated us no different than they did BC or BU or Northeastern or Harvard. It meant a lot to our kids and it meant a lot to our school. We had a lot of people here, over a hundred hockey alumni. It was a big deal, the thrill of a lifetime.”
Game of the Week
Williams at Bowdoin, Friday
Williams hasn’t lost a game since Dec. 10, a stretch of six games. The Polar Bears haven’t lost in regulation since Dec. 6, a stretch of seven games.
Something should give Friday, and the winner will head into late January sitting near the pole position in the NESCAC.
New England Division 3 power rankings
1. Norwich (11-1-1, 7-1 ECAC East)
Fenway hangover? Maybe. But the Cadets’ 2-1 loss at UMass-Boston Saturday afternoon – their first of the season -- did see them hold a 40-16 edge in shots.
2. Castleton State (12-3, 7-1 ECAC East)
Spartans were idle last weekend and head to Maine this weekend for games against Southern Maine on Friday and the University of New England on Saturday.
3. Williams (8-1-4, 6-1-1 NESCAC)
Two ties to show for last weekend, but the 3-3 deadlock against No. 3 Plattsburgh featured comebacks from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the third period.
4. Amherst (11-2-1, 8-1-0 NESCAC)
Dylan Trumble’s game-winner midway through the third period of 3-2 win at Conn. College made it a perfect weekend for the Lord Jeffs.
5. Johnson & Wales (9-4-2, 3-0-2 ECAC Northeast)
Wildcats split a pair with Buffalo State over the weekend, getting the game-winner Friday with 38 ticks left in regulation from Division 3 points leader Jeremiah Ketts, his 13th goal of the year.
6. Bowdoin (8-4-2, 6-2-2 NESCAC)
Graham Sisson, Daniel Weiniger and Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass.) each scored twice as the Polar Bears earned a win and a tie over the weekend.
7. UMass-Dartmouth (9-3-1, 5-1-1 MASCAC)
Senior forward Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.) leads the MASCAC in scoring with 11-10-21 totals.
8. Wentworth (10-4-1, 3-1-1 ECAC Northeast)
Casey Shade scored a pair as Leopards doubled up Becker, 6-3. At least a share of first place in the league could be on the line when they visit Curry on Saturday.
9. Plymouth State (9-4-1, 6-1-1 MASCAC)
Kyle Greco had two goals and an assist as Panthers blanked Westfield State (4-0) and settled for a tie at Framingham State (3-3).
10. Curry (7-6-1, 5-0 ECAC Northeast)
Winless in their last six, the Colonels are desperately looking for positives, and they can take some from playing No. 2 Oswego even-up for 55 minutes on the road before losing, 3-1.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.