Welcome to the Party

Ryan Thomas

The culmination of events that transformed the UMass Boston men’s hockey team from the hunter to the hunted began over a year ago.

On December 5, 2007 the Beacons skated to a 1-1 tie with Babson College, a team they had not taken a point from in seven years. The changeover continued 45 days later, when UMass Boston took nationally-ranked Norwich University into overtime behind star forward Kris Kranzky’s equalizer 19:35 into the third period. The Beacons lost 3-2 but gained notoriety and confidence in the process. Just over a month later, the Beacons prevailed over Middlebury College for the first time in 17 years, 4-3, providing all the confidence they would need going into postseason play.

The Eastern College Athletic Conference East tournament brought UMass Boston even more notoriety, as they shocked number-two seed Babson, 4-1. The postseason win was their first in seven years.

After years of sub par play and ECAC East teams taking UMass Boston for granted, a change was in the air. Teams could no longer just “show up” and beat the Beacons.

Even though UMass Boston’s 2007-08 conference record was a less than mediocre 5-12-2, their best efforts were against the greatest teams in the paramount Division III hockey conference in the country and their at-the-time inconceivable win against Babson put them on the map once again.

Many believe the Beacons surprised teams last year with their vastly improved aggressive, hard-nosed, crash-and-bang style of hockey, something they wouldn’t be able to do this year. But long-tenured Colby College hockey head coach Jim Tortorella doesn’t believe that notion. “I don’t think they surprised a lot of teams last year,” he said. “I think they just played better than a lot of teams. In the end, UMass Boston was a really good team last year and I think they’re even better this year.”

Tortorella was in the minority last season. This season, he’s one of many that understand UMass Boston (3-1-1 overall, 0-1-1 in conference) is no longer a wet paper bag waiting to be torn into.

Beacons head coach Peter Belisle understands his team cannot fly under the radar anymore and that there are now bulls eyes on the backs of his players. “We’re not an easy two points anymore,” the third year coach admitted. “More so I think people know that. We talked about that in the locker room. We’re not gonna be able to surprise a team. Teams aren’t gonna come in here lackadaisical. They’re gonna come in here, they’re gonna be ready to go so we’d better match that every night.”

Said Kris Kranzky, UMass Boston’s leading goal scorer and points leader: “Some teams might have taken us a little lightly knowing our history. They figured it was gonna be a point night. They’re gonna try and score as many goals as they can … but now we have a good team and people should be worried about playing us.”

No opposing coach or player would ever admit taking a team lightly going into a match-up, especially in the strong and deep ECAC East, but human nature can endure, causing teams to occasionally play down to their opponent’s level. It is possible that Babson, Middlebury and Norwich did this (to an extent) and that’s why UMass Boston was able to play them tight.

In Tortorella’s eyes though, that’s not possible. “That’s a cliché that teams get surprised,” he said. “It may happen the first shift, like ‘holy [expletive], what just happened here? These guys can skate, these guys can pass; wow these guys are after it.’ But it’s a game and a game is 60 minutes long and as time goes on you can’t be surprised.”

UMass Boston will be anything but a surprise when they face off against Babson on December 10 at the Babson Skating Center in Wellesley. “I know they’ll be very disciplined and be very hard to play against,” Babson head coach Jamie Rice said. The Beavers are off to a slow start this season, as losses to Bowdoin College and Colby College caused them to drop out of the USCHO.com Division III men’s poll.

The feeling of the upcoming match-up should be like a playoff atmosphere for the Beacons. There’s a different feel, Kranzky said, between the games last season and the games this season so far. “You can just feel it,” he said. “You can feel it in the atmosphere that people know that we’re a good team, [that] we’re not a joke anymore.”