Frozen Fenway revisited

Historic Fenway Park in Boston is the setting for Thursday night’s contest between Norwich and Babson (photo: Tim Costello).

Back in 2012 for their first appearance at Frozen Fenway, the Norwich Cadets and Babson Beavers were hockey teams going in very different directions.

Norwich was on its way to another ECAC East crown and Frozen Four appearance, while the Beavers entered the contest sporting a 3-11-0 record and very much searching for their game.

In some ways, the first game at the old ballyard may have been the jump start the Beavers needed to get their swagger back and a quick look at the statistics post-outdoor game in 2012 bear out Babson’s resurgence.

The Beavers finished the 2011-12 season on a 6-2-4 run following the loss to the Cadets by a 4-1 score and in the following season, sported a 2-1-1 record against Norwich, including a win at Northfield in the conference championship game to match their win there in early January. The only loss was unfortunately suffered in the NCAA quarterfinals, but Babson has been a difficult opponent for the Cadets over the years and last season’s two home losses were two-thirds of the Cadets’ season total at home.

So how is this year’s version of the Frozen Fenway game different?

First and foremost, both teams are on a roll entering Thursday night’s contest having won recent holiday tournaments against quality nonconference opponents.

Babson enters the game having won the Salem State Classic with wins over the host school and Colby last weekend, while Norwich won its own Northfield Bank tournament with impressive wins over the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Amherst in the final.

In conference play, the Cadets lead the Beavers in the standings by three points with Babson holding a game in hand. Norwich has averaged almost five goals per contest in league play showing off their potent offense, while Babson has displayed its timely and balanced offense and a league-leading defense in allowing just eight goals against in their first six contests this season.

For sure there are a lot of new faces this time around for both teams who will experience the thrill of the outdoor game in a big-time venue for the first time. There are also guys who have been there before and in the case of Norwich’s Shane Gorman and Babson’s Andrew Bonazza, guys that scored goals on the big stage and were key performers for their teams in the first appearance in 2012.

Gorman was not among the stars in the high-profile lineup dressed for Norwich two years ago, but he and teammate Doug Lindensmith scored two goals apiece in pacing the Cadets to the win. Bonazza provided the only goal for Babson that afternoon and finished in the top two in scoring for the Beavers that season, but the game then and now so often between these two teams does not come down to the obvious playmaker or leading scorer.

Gorman, along with linemates Travis Janke and Chris Duszynski, lead the Cadets in scoring this season and have been a potent first line for coach Mike McShane. But don’t be surprised if someone else with maybe lesser credentials steps up to be a key performer in this game for either team on Thursday night.

For Babson, it all starts in goal and so far this season, Jamie Murray has been a bona fide No. 1 netminder for coach Jamie Rice. Murray sports a 1.34 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in support of his 10 wins. While Babson emphasizes the concept of team defense, Murray has been rock solid and has the confidence of his teammates to come up with the big save when needed.

For Norwich, freshman forward William Pelletier has been very hot of late, scoring four of his six goals on the season in the past two games, including a hat trick against MSOE in the preliminary round game of the Northfield Bank tournament last weekend. Averaging just under a point per game, the freshman is showing his offensive skills for the Cadets and could be a factor in the game on Thursday night.

What is different for the coaches this time around? For Rice, it is about trying to keep things as “normal” as possible and focusing on the important aspect of the game ahead.

“We keep emphasizing with the kids that this is a league game,” stated Rice. “This is a game against Norwich, not the game at Fenway. It is an important game and I am pretty sure they are going to be good and Mike McShane is going to have them ready to play. The ancillary stuff is going to be there, but we want to keep as much normal as possible in terms of how we practice and prepare to play. Sure, kids may wear a little thicker undershirt and we may have some kids sporting eye-black, which is stuff we normally don’t do, but all that aside, we want to be ready to play an important league game against a very tough opponent.

“We have a good number of kids that have been there before, but they still deal with some of the same distractions relative to family and when do we get to see you before and/or after, say hi to Aunt Beth who is coming to see the game this year and the separate pregame practices at the venue like professional teams do before a game. Trying to keep everything else as normal as possible is a key that should help us be ready to play. We played our last game before the break on Dec. 7 and came back on Dec. 30 without any hockey in between, so I am happy with the ability of the kids to come back in shape and ready to play as evidenced by our wins this past weekend over Salem State and Colby. This is a very important game against a big rival and of course, the venue and event for all of the Babson alums, athletic department and program is a big deal.”

The wild card in any outdoor game is of course the weather. Temperatures last weekend and early this week have hovered around the zero-degree mark, which creates its own challenges for the players. Thursday’s forecast is for somewhat milder temperatures, but at least one coach is hoping for maybe even a flurry or two.

“Saturday was a great day seeing the field covered in snow,” quipped Rice. “The rain and warmup yesterday took that part of the atmosphere away with the snow around the rink going away. It would be great if we could get a little flurry to complete the atmosphere and the look for a true winter outdoor game. I think about the comment from hockey commentator Mike Emrick during the first Winter Classic in Buffalo that it looked like a snow globe upside down and hope we have a little of that to add to the experience.”

Inside the glass, the game will be hotly-contested on Thursday and there is a lot at stake for both teams in the conference standings. That said, don’t be surprised to see the coaches wearing their hats behind the benches in an attempt to stay warm in what is projected to be temperatures in the low 20s.

“My mom passed away last May and she always said to remember to say please and thank you, brush your teeth and in the winter, put a hat on,” said Rice. “I tell my kids that all the time and to be sure, I will be wearing a hat on this bald head on Thursday night.”

The finale of three D-III contests at the 2014 edition of Frozen Fenway is Thursday night between Babson and Norwich. Based on national ranking, this might be a case of saving the best for last and certainly two teams that have been there before with such a strong rivalry at a great venue have all of the elements for a great hockey game.

Quick Pick

The Cadets and Beavers debuted D-III hockey at Frozen Fenway in 2012 and these two nationally-ranked teams always play it very close and the Beavers have held the upper hand in regular season play over the past season. Norwich won the first time, but this time around, the home team is just a goal better in front of the Green Monster. Babson wins 3-2.