Growing up outside Boston, Matt Furey knew future teammate Shayne Anderson as simply the big defenseman from Dorchester.
In youth hockey around Boston, teams from Quincy and Dorchester cross paths with a regularity that breeds familiarity. Whether it’s the Quincy Youth Arena or Cleveland Circle or the Sportsplex in Canton, paths are crossed and memories filed away.
And then a lot of those memories seem to get unearthed again at Babson College.
The Beavers haven’t just made their case as one of the top teams in Division 3 this winter, going 16-3-0 (10-2-0 ECAC East) as February dawned. They’re also doing it with the local kids — 16 of the 27 players on the roster are from Massachusetts, including several of the top guys across the board.
“That’s something special and unique to Babson,” said Furey, a defenseman and senior captain from Quincy, Mass. “There were a bunch of us who knew each other. We either played with each other or against each other, or knew of each other. When we got together as freshmen, we all had a mutual friend or a game we were in together.”
Some of those old rivalries die hard on this campus of 2,000 undergrads near Wellesley Country Club and up the road at the Babson Skating Center.
“You hear about them after the fact,” said Babson coach Jamie Rice (Newton, Mass.), now in his 10th year guiding the program he played for in the late 1980s. “Someone cross-checked someone in a Peewee game from way back. It’s funny to listen to them.
“(Sophomore goalie) Jamie Murray was saying to someone yesterday that he beat him in the high school state tournament. The other kid was like, ‘When was that?’ ”
Junior forward Mike Driscoll (Milton, Mass.) leads a balanced team in scoring, with nine goals and 18 points. He played on a Boston Advantage team with senior defenseman Tom Callahan (Lakeville, Mass.) and senior forward Matt O’Neill (Norwell, Mass.). He knew Anderson from Dorchester Youth Hockey.
When he finally admitted to himself that Division 1 wasn’t in his future, he had Babson voices in his head, a chance to play high-level Division 3 and attend an excellent business school.
“Rice had been all over me, and Tom and Matty had been whispering in my ear,” he said.
Driscoll, Furey and their respective classmates have been part of a nice resurgence at the school. The Beavers finished below .500 in Furey’s first two years, though they reached the ECAC East championship game in 2010-11.
Last year was the breakthrough. The Beavers didn’t just go 18-7-5, beat Norwich on its own ice to win the ECAC East title and play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years, they did with a cast of largely sophomore and junior players who would be back for another run.
Driscoll, plus seniors Nik Tasiopoulos (Norwell, Mass.), Ryan Heavey (Andover, Mass.) and Troy Starrett (Bellingham, Mass.) are among the leading scorers on a team that wins with defense.
“You think of Boston, you think of BU and BC, and you think of the Beanpot,” said Furey. “But there’s a lot of good, talented players out there. There are only so many Division 1 spots to go around. I don’t think people realize how good the Division 3 hockey is.”
The Beavers are allowing just 1.63 goals a game, the sixth-best figure in Division 3. Murray, a sophomore from Scituate, Mass., ranks fourth nationally in save percentage (.947) and sixth in goals-against average (1.51), taking over the lead backstopping role after sharing it last winter with senior Zeke Testa (Wellesley, Mass.), who’s now an assistant coach.
“The only loss we might have been concerned with was Zeke,” said Driscoll, “but Jamie Murray has done a great job between the pipes.”
Players like Tasiopoulos, a point-per-game scoring star at Wesleyan who transferred in last year as a junior, has added assets like shot-blocking to his repertoire.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have a 60-point, All-American, Player of the Year guy,” said Rice. “But that’s OK.”
A lot has changed in Division 3 hockey since Rice was starring at Babson in the late 1980s. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the number — and quality — of hockey players coming out of eastern Mass., even if they might be coming out a little older.
“Massachusetts is the number one producer of Division 3 players,” said Rice. “When I played here, as a freshman, I think we had two players from outside Massachusetts on our roster. I know it’s a different day and a different game, but if there are 10 good players from Massachusetts going on to play college hockey next year, we should be in on all of them.
“The back end of it, which they probably don’t realize when they’re playing, is that they’re going to live and work in this area when they’re done,” said Rice.
The ECAC East has become a two-team race with perennial power Norwich, after Babson’s sweep of UMass-Boston — a team that also has its share of local guys — in the last full weekend in January.
“Our immediate goal is to take care of home ice,” said Furey. “But we’d be lying if we said a national title wasn’t our ultimate goal. Before that, we want to win the league again.”