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This Week in ECAC East

College Hockey:
Babson battles upward

When a team has a history of playing its best at the right time of the year and putting itself in a position to win conference championships, it’s really difficult to get too worried about slow starts or placement in the standings after just a few weekends of play. For the Babson College Beavers and coach Jamie Rice, the season has just started, and while there are lots of good things happening on the ice, the all-important “Ws” didn’t really show up until this past weekend.

“I am not one to ever look at the standings,” said Rice. “Look, it is a long season, and while you don’t ever want to be looking up at a lot of teams in the standings, we really are focused on playing Babson hockey and just getting better each and every day, every practice and every game. If those things happen, then the other stuff people outside our locker room look at more intently than we do will take care of itself.”

After opening with an 0-2-2 record, Babson has posted back-to-back wins against conference foe Castleton and St. Olaf, who visited over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The game against Castleton saw the Beavers race to an early 3-0 lead, only to lose some momentum to the visitors, who scored in the final seconds of the second period to close the gap to two goals. Three unanswered goals in a seven-minute span, along with 24 saves by freshman Jamie Murray in goal, provided the difference in a convincing 6-1 win on home ice. Last Saturday’s game with the Oles saw a repeat formul,a with an early Babson goal setting the stage for the team’s leading scorer, Connor Berto, to ice the contest in the third period with two goals, including an empty-net goal for the final tally in a 3-0 win that earned Murray his first collegiate shutout after making 21 saves, including nine in the third period.

“We have played pretty well in all of our games,” noted Rice. “We are doing a lot of good things on the ice and are competing hard every night. We don’t always get the bounces or breaks, but it isn’t a case of being badly outplayed or not competing to the level of our opponent. This season has a lot of hockey to be played, and I like what I see from these kids so far. We are getting great leadership from our older guys, and the new players are fitting in very well and playing very well in all situations. Jamie [Murray] is a great example of a kid who we wanted to see what he could do and has played very well. He showed a lot of poise in his first game against Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and had something like 30 saves. I didn’t like that we gave up two short-handed goals or a two-goal lead, but we played hard and so did John’s [Rolli] team. It’s something we will take away, some good things and use in the games down the road.”

One newcomer who has a lot of expectations around his offensive ability is junior forward Nik Tasiopoulos. A transfer from Wesleyan, Nik was the leading scorer in the highly-competitive NESCAC conference last season, so there was a lot of anticipation for his contributing early and often to the Babson goal total this season. Against Castleton, Tasiopoulos broke through for his first goal of the season in the third period, a goal that helped break the game open for the Beavers. It was his first on the year but his coach isn’t worried about his star forward’s performance or meeting expectations.

“Of course there are expectations based on what Nik has done in the past,” stated Rice. “He probably has higher expectations of himself than anything the coaches, his teammates, or fans can put on him. At the end of the day, he has played really well from the opening game of the season. He had eight shots in the [Massachusetts] Dartmouth game and has been doing all of the little things you need to do in the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. I am not worried about Nik scoring goals. He has proven he knows how to do that, and he just knows how to compete and at the same time bring out the best in his linemates and other players around him. He is fitting in well here at Babson, and like all the kids here loves the school and loves playing hockey here.”

This weekend finds Babson again returning to home ice to host Southern Maine and the University of New England in the final two conference games before the semester break. The weekend series completes an early six-game home stand for the Beavers, who would like to extend their current two-game win streak.

“You always want to play well and especially at home,” said coach Rice. “It would be nice to create a little home-ice advantage if we can, but going back to my own days as a student and my thesis on the myth of the home field advantage, there really isn’t such a thing that holds up statistically. The good teams win a little more at home and the lesser teams lose a little more at home, so essentially it all balances out. We want to play well wherever we are playing, so there isn’t any more pressure on winning at home than on the road. It’s about playing our game, Babson hockey to the best of our ability and making sure that we are playing better and better throughout the course of the season.”

The Beavers close out the first half with a road visit to Curry next Tuesday night. Right now, the focus is on keeping the momentum going and building on their recent successes. Babson has moved out of the cellar, and currently sits in a tie for seventh with three points in the standings. The bad news for the rest of the league is they are just four points out of second place and have one game in hand on four teams and two games in hand on four others.

The Beavers are battling for sure, and right now things are certainly looking up!


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