March 16, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bazin Just May be the Best

6th-Year Coach has UMass-Lowell Back in Trophy Contention

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer (@JoeMeloni)

Six years ago, Norm Bazin stood in front of media and fans at his introductory press conference as the sixth head coach in the history of UMass-Lowell hockey and told the world he believed his beloved River Hawks could "compete for the three major championships."

The Hockey East regular-season title.

The Hockey East tournament title.

A national championship.

It's obligatory. It's something coaches say when they get hired. No one's going to take a job and tell a fanbase not to get excited. Taking Bazin seriously wasn't easy, but that's because he never mentioned how exactly he planned to trasform a underperforming program into a  model for sustained excellence. We'd also never met Norm Bazin.

In his six years, Bazin has compiled a .627 winning percentage. The River Hawks have won at least 21 games in every season, missing the NCAA tournament just once. They've played in four straight Hockey East championship games, winning titles in 2013 and 2014. A Frozen Four in 2013 and regular-season championships in 2013 and 2017 also sit on the mantelpiece for Bazin.

He's done exactly what he said he would when he took this job.

"He had a plan when he came in," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who opposes Bazin Friday night in a Hockey East semifinal, said. "He certainly executed it. The system they play is unique. Only a few teams in college hockey utilize it. He recruits to it. He finds players that fit into that system. Norm has certainly taken advantage of the resources that Lowell has offered. He's probably done one of the best jobs in the country over the last several years."

For years, it seemed, the lesser programs in Hockey East tried to be Boston College and Boston University and failed. They tried to get the best, most skilled playersand match styles. Instead, they lost recruiting battles and ended up three or four players short of truly being able to contend. Even New Hampshire and Maine were always a little different in their approaches to recruiting during their eras of dominance.

Bazin never bothered to fit a mold. He understands two things above all else:

1. He knows, of course, how to win hockey games.

2. He knows how to win hockey games at UMass-Lowell.

Jerry York has the most wins of all time. There are, including York, four active coaches with multiple national championships. Still, Bazin has proven that, at this moment, he is the best coach in college hockey.

Dozens of talented players have suited up for UML in Bazin's tenure. None of them came from the U.S. National Team Development Program. None of them were first round draft picks. Hell, none of them were second-, third-, or fourth-round picks either.

Not one of them cared.

Bazin's players are a bit older. They're big. They're strong. They're smart, and they love winning hockey games. It's how you convince guys to play third-line minutes when they probably could've gotten top six time somewhere else. It's how you convince a player like C.J. Smith to block shots. It's how you turn a player like Joe Gambardella from a nice Hockey East player into one of the most dangerous players in the country.

"UMass-Lowell has good players," Boston University coach Dave Quinn said. "I said this after we played them. Every school has its strengths and its weaknesses. They've done a phenomenal job identifying the type of player they can and should recruit.

"They got out and get guys that are a little older. They don't just get older players. They get older, good players. We all have access to recruit those older players. They've done a phenomenal job in recruiting. He does a great job in coaching. They're very consistent. They're very structured. They get good goaltending. They're a tough matchup for younger teams."

Lowell ranks 28th national in average age. The three other teams playing in Hockey East semifinals this weekend — Boston College, Boston University and Notre Dame — rank 60th, 59th and 57th, respectively.

There's no right way or wrong way to build a program and win games. Bazin surely approaches some of the highly skilled players the nation's marquee programs attract. Not many are too keen on Lowell, though. And that's just fine with Bazin and his staff.

Knowing what his program is and where it fits in the Division I men's hockey landscape is Bazin's greatest asset.

He's created a program where a smart, unheralded winger like John Edwardh can become a star. A program where a 21-year-old freshman named Kenny Hausinger can become one of the best penalty-killers in the country.

After last weekend's defeat of New Hampshire, Edwardh commented that he and his teammates expect to advance to TD Garden every year. It's not arrogance. It's an understanding of the blueprint and the system. It's worked before, and the players know it will work again.

"I am glad they believe that in the locker room that they are going to get there every year; but it’s really, really difficult," Bazin said.

"The culture is such that they are very accountable to each other, and there’s an expectation in the locker room that we are going to bring our best every day whether it’s practice or a game. I am glad they think they can get it done, because that’s part of the formula."

The biggest part of the formula, from the outside, appears to be Bazin. Even if he doesn't care for the external praise. He deflects every chance he gets.

"I am very fortunate to have a great staff, when I think of my assistant coaches, to my equipment manager and my hockey ops, all those guys play a huge part in it," he said. "We try to move our group forward as much as we can and fortunately for us, we are making another trip to the Garden this weekend."

UMass-Lowell will play Notre Dame Friday afternoon. A win will send them to a fifth consecutive Hockey East championship game. The River Hawks have already locked up at least an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The biggest goal this weekend, though, is a third Lamoriello Trophy. It's one of the championships Bazin told us Lowell could win regularly.

Turns out, he knew exactly how to do it.

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