With origins dating back to the late 1940s, men's ice hockey is one of the oldest and most successful programs in Babson Athletics history. In six decades of varsity play, Babson hockey has posted over 700 victories, made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, and claimed the 1984 NCAA National Championship. The program also boasts 12 Athletics Hall of Fame members, including two-time Hobey Baker College Division Award winner Tom Sasso and all-time assist leader and Hobey Baker finalist Paul Donato.
The earliest known mention of ice hockey at Babson was in the March 18, 1947 edition of The Babson Beaver, the school's student-run newspaper at the time. It was noted that a team organized by student Sam Hutchinson would likely represent the College during the 1947-48 school year. However, records of the team competing against outside foes don't appear until 1950-51, when the squad went 3-2 against such opponents as Framingham High School, the Wellesley Town Team, and the Harvard Freshman Team.
The first varsity season of Babson hockey was in 1952-53, when student-coach and future Hall of Famer Wally Pratt led Babson to an 8-1 mark. Although considered varsity, the team was still competing against primarily prep schools and college freshman programs as late as 1953-54. However, by 1954-55 Babson featured a full varsity schedule that included Holy Cross, MIT, Tufts, Springfield, WPI, and Merrimack. Pratt continued to coach the squad along with classmate Arthur "Be-Bo" Ireland, while the roster included Dick Rochford, Red Hernberg, and Pete Meals, who each recorded more than 20 points apiece that winter, and Jesse Putney, who would captain the squad in 1955-56 and later be inducted to the Athletics Hall of Fame.
Babson had its best season to date in 1956-57, when the team went 10-1-1 with wins over Assumption, Merrimack, Wesleyan, and WPI. However, after a 6-6 campaign the following year, the program appears to have briefly dissolved and was played only at the club level for at least two years.
In 1961-62, senior captains Roger Miller and Robert Mitchell were able to work to Dean of Students Paul C. Staake to resurrect the ice hockey program at the varsity level. That winter, Babson joined the Worcester Hockey League and battled such foes as Holy Cross, Nichols, Fitchburg State, Salem State, and Worcester Junior College. The program appears to have struggled to field a team in the following few years, but by 1965-66 varsity hockey was back for good at Babson.
The next decade was a difficult one for the program, which finished above .500 only twice between 1967-68 and 1977-78. The team still featured some talented stars during this period, including future Hall of Famers Jim Powers, who graduated in 1976 as the top scoring defenseman in program history, and Mark Paylor, who led the team in scoring with 18 goals and 30 points in 1974-75.
A Stirling Turnaround
Steve Stirling was named head coach of the Babson hockey program in 1978, and the impact of his arrival was immediate and extraordinary. In his first season at the helm, he led the Beavers to a 15-8 record and was named Division II Coach of the Year. The following season, Babson went 17-8-3, earned its first-ever ECAC Division II Tournament bid, and received its first national ranking. Junior goalie Gary Whear posted a Division II record six shutouts and led the region with a 2.40 goals against average, helping him become the first AHCA All-America selection in program history.
In 1980-81, a young forward named Paul Donato joined the program and was named ECAC Rookie of the Year after his first collegiate season. A year later, he helped his team finish 20-7-2, place second in the ECAC Tournament, and earn the team's first-ever bid to the NCAA Divsion II Tournament. Babson would then go 22-8-1 and return to the NCAA Tourney in 1982-83, setting the stage for the greatest season in team history.
Division III's First Champions
The 1983-84 season saw Babson hockey play at the Division III level for the first time. In its first of two seasons under new head coach Rob Riley, Babson made history by going 27-5-1, winning its first ECAC Championship, and claiming the program's first-ever NCAA National Championship, defeating Union, 8-0, in Division III's inaugural title game. Donato was named All-America First Team after setting a program record with 76 points and graduating with school records of 140 assists and 226 points, while goalie Keith Houghton was named All-America Second Team.
Babson would continue to terrorize opponents for the next decade, thanks to a host of magnificent players during that time. Among the many outstanding individuals of this era were future Hall of Famers Houghton, who garnered All-America First Team honors in 1985, Fran Murray, who graduated as the program's first 100 goal scorer, and Jim Creamer, who was twice named All-America. Joe Capprini and Mark Kuryak were also named All-America in multiple seasons, while Chris McGee, Dan Pompeo, John Lashar, Tom Aquaviva, and Hall of Famer Ron Beran each received national honors on one occasion.
However, no star shone more brightly during this stretch than Tom Sasso, whose individual accolades are unmatched in the annuls of Babson hockey. In 1986, the legendary forward was the program's first-ever winner of the College Division Hobey Baker Award - given annually to the best college hockey player in the country. The following year, he became the first person in Hobey Baker history to win the College Division Award twice. That same year, Sasso was the only Division II/III player selected to play on the United States Select Team, and in the offseason he became the program's first player to be drafted when he was taken by the Quebec Nordiques. In his senior season of 1987-88, Sasso earned his third All-America First Team honor, making him the only three-time All-American in Babson hockey history; he became Babson's first New England College Athletic Conference (NECAC) Division III Male Athlete of the Year; and he graduated as the program's all-time leader with 229 career points.
With Sasso and company leading the way, the hockey team posted six 20-win seasons from 1984-85 to 1992-93. The Beavers also won their second ECAC Tournament Championship in 1992, and they earned nine more NCAA Tournament bids - including four trips to the National Semifinals - to extend the team's streak of national tourney appearances to 12 - the most by any team in school history.
Into the New Millenium
After continuing to coach hockey for eight seasons after Riley's departure in 1985, Stirling stepped down for good following the 1992-93 season. In stepped program legend Paul Donato, who would guide his alma mater to 139 victories over the next 11 years. Among the team's top players during this time were David Woodward, who became just the sixth player in program history to earn multiple All-American honors when he was named to the First Team in 1996, and Derek Nisula, who in 2003-04 was selected as the program's first-ever finalist for the presitigious Hockey "Humanitarian" Award, presented each year to college hockey's finest citizen.
Following Donato's departure in 2004, another Babson hockey alumnus, Jamie Rice '90, took over as head coach of the program. Rice's squad enjoyed immediate success, going 20-5-3 in 2004-05 behind ECAC East Goalie of the Year Craig Weiner and All-American defenseman Tom Sullivan. After posting 17 more wins in 2005-06, the Beavers went 18-10-1, won their third ECAC East Championship, and returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2006-07. All-New England forward Brad Baldelli was one of the team's top forces on the ice that season, while Rice garnered New England Coach of the Year honors.
Babson made history again in 2008-09, when the Beavers became the first seventh seed in ECAC East Tournament history to win the league championship. As a result, the team earned the program's 14th bid to the NCAA Tournament. Following back-to-back appearances in the league championship game in 2010 and 2011, Babson earned their fifth conference title and went back to the NCAA Tourney in 2013, advancing to the National Quarterfinals for the second time in seven years.
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