Great Wall of Donovan

Ryan Thomas

After the game, Peter Belisle finally found a cell phone with service, called his wife and told her the great news. The UMass Boston head coach explained what had just happened, and, apparently, she didn’t believe him. “I’m not kidding,” he said.

His previous words to her: “We won, 4-1.”

UMass Boston did what most thought was impossible: They defeated the nationally-ranked Babson College Beavers 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the ECAC East Tournament. The post-season win was the Beacons’ first in more than eight years, and it shocked Babson and its usually raucous fan base, “Beaver Nation.”

Rookie of the Year candidate Eric Tufman and defenseman Brett Calhoun scored power-play goals 2:02 apart in the second period, and sophomore goalie Ryan Donovan made 33 saves to propel the Beacons to an amazing upset.

“It was ugly, but it worked,” a wide-grinning and overwhelmed Belisle said while his team celebrated in the locker room behind him. “It wasn’t pretty, but that’s not our game. We’re not a pretty hockey team.

“We play the body, we get it deep, we try to frustrate a skilled team like [Babson]. You know, that was our game plan.”

Assistant coach Jeff Pellegrini said the outcome was like “the Middlebury feeling times ten,” referring to the upset win of another nationally-ranked team – Middlebury College – back on February 16. “This is a great feeling. I’m so happy for the guys. They deserve this; they’ve worked so hard all year.”

Tufman, whose second period goal was his eighteenth of the season, knew what his team had to do in order to get this outcome. “We came out, we knew that we had to bang ’em every time,” the forward said. “They’re a team that relies on a lot of time, and, without giving them time, they [didn’t] stand a chance.”

While Tufman was speaking the good word, the Beacons’ Ryan Donovan was just all smiles. “You win a game like that, you can’t help but smile,” he said.

“Everyone on our team played unbelievable tonight. The way I played is a reflection of how [our team] played. I fed off them the entire game.” Donovan’s level of play was elevated all game, and he credited UMass Boston’s rabid fan base for the extra energy they pumped into his team.

Said Tufman: “[Donovan] played phenomenal. He keeps us in every game, [always] gives us a chance to win. Tonight we backed him up a little bit, put some goals on the board and he did his job, and did it perfectly.”

Tufman went on to say that what makes his goalie so great is his pre-game concentration. “We don’t talk to [Ryan] before the games. He’s just sitting in there [the locker room] and just focusing, and you can see his concentration on the ice. It’s just phenomenal. He’s just always in the zone.”

Said Belisle: “He [Donovan] was unbelievable; he was just so calm in steering his rebounds like he did.”

After a scoreless first period in which each team had a goal waved off, the pace and aggressiveness picked up for the Beacons in the second.

While on the power play, Eric Tufman parked himself in front of the Babson goal and waited for rebound opportunities. After a shot on-goal by Matt Atsoff from the point that Babson goalie Skyler Nipps had trouble handling, Tufman got his stick on the puck. He held the puck briefly and buried it into an open net 11:05 into the second to give UMass Boston a 1-0 lead.

2:02 later, mid-season transfer defenseman Brett Calhoun put what appeared to be a dump-in shot on-goal from just outside the blue line. His shot went through some traffic, surprised Nipps and beat him high on his blocker side. The puck rang the left post and hit Nipps’ water bottle, signaling a 2-0 lead for the Beacons, driving the thunder stick-wielding UMass Boston fans into a frenzy.

After UMass Boston dodged some bullets on the penalty kill later in the second period and weathered Babson’s unrelenting but sometimes sloppy pressure, the third period began with a bang.

Freshman forward Dennis Zak carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the Babson zone with speed. After putting the puck between the legs of his defender, Zak corralled it with his stick and snapped a wrister that beat Nipps five-hole to make it 3-0 only 1:37 into the third.

After a tripping penalty on UMass Boston’s Anthony Casmano with 7:51 left in regulation, Babson called a timeout and decided to pull their goalie to create a two-man advantage. The strategy worked, as the Beavers’ Shane Farrell beat Ryan Donovan through traffic to make the game 3-1 with 6:25 left.

3-1 was as close as Babson would get though, as Jacob Cline, who took a puck off the ankle earlier in the third, scored on an empty-net goal from 150 feet away to ice the game and make it 4-1.

“We all played good games [tonight], everyone,” Captain Kris Kranzky said. “We had a complete game by everyone. No one took a night off; the whole team showed up.”