The Babson Beavers (18-9-1) and Manhattanville Valiants (20-1-5) men’s ice hockey teams have only met once. Back on Nov. 27, 1999, a newly minted Valiants team traveled to the Babson Tournament on Thanksgiving weekend to play the host team in only their sixth game ever.
Babson scored two goals in the final minute of the first period and then Eric Bookbinder added a natural hat trick in the second period to route Manhattanville 6-1.
On Saturday, the Beavers don’t expect it to be quite so easy as Babson travels to Manhattanville’s Playland Ice Casino for the NCAA Quarterfinals to play a Valiants team currently ranked second in the nation.
“Manhattanville is obviously a very good team,” said Babson coach Jamie Rice. “They have had great success this season and [coach] Keith [Levinthal] has done a terrific job. It will be a big challenge but one we are really looking forward to”
Babson won its first ECAC East championship since 1992 last weekend as the No. 6 seed Beavers rode over No. 3 Skidmore, No. 1 Norwich, and No. 2 New England during the league playoffs. With the title in hand, they earned the team’s first NCAA tournament bid since 1993.
“No one player was responsible for the championship wins this weekend,” said Rice. “It was a real team effort — everyone did the school proud! It’s a really great accomplishment for this team. Getting back to a place where we haven’t been in 14 years says a lot about the effort and commitment of these kids.”
Manhattanville won its second ECAC West title in the last two years last weekend, earning its third straight trip to the NCAA tournament. The Valiants defeated No. 4 seeded Elmira in the league playoff semifinals and then overcame a late charge to defeat No. 2 seed — and No. 3 in the nation — Neumann in overtime.
“It was a pretty intense game, well played, really good pace to it, and a really good atmosphere in the building,” said Levinthal. “[Neumann] is a really good team. They are probably the best team we have had to deal with all year. Any win over that team is a great win.”
Both teams are on a roll, with Babson 8-1-1 over its last ten games while Manhattanville is 10-1-3 over its last fourteen games.
“Babson is a very good team playing very well at this time of year,” said Levinthal. “They are very focused and disciplined. They are a kind of classic ECAC East-like team. I like where we are. In terms of health-wise, we are the best we have been in a month. But there is no more not playing well and getting away with it.”
Three players to watch on Babson are sophomores Brad Baldelli and Skyler Nipps, and freshman Casey Fazekas.
Baldelli leads the Beavers in scoring with sixteen goals and twenty assists, ranking third in the ECAC East in both power play points and goals per game. Baldelli is an important reason that Babson led the ECAC East in power plays this year converting on 22.7% of its opportunities.
Fazekas is Babson’s leading defensive scorer with two goals and nineteen, placing him as the top freshman defender in the league in scoring.
Skyler Nipps has been a rock for Babson in goal, playing in twenty two games this season and posting 2.61 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
“Skylar (Nipps) played very well — he gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask of your goaltender,” said Rice. “You don’t win games in March without good goaltending.”
Players to watch on Manhattanville are seniors Andrew Gallant and Chris Mills, and freshman AJ Mikkelsen.
Andrew Gallant, the ECAC West player of the year, has been in net for twenty four of the Valiants games this season, ranking second in the nation in both goals against average (1.81) and save percentage (.929). Fellow senior Chris Mills is third in the ECAC West with twenty seven assists, chipping in fourteen goals along the way as well.
Freshman AJ Mikkelsen is second in the league in defensive scoring with seven goals and fifteen assists, and is also tied for third with his teammate Matt Piezga in overall freshman scoring.