March 19, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Past Against Future

Coaching Legends, Young Leaders Vie for Hockey East Title

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

BOSTON — There aren't many constants in college hockey in 2013.

Conference realignment, overtures from professional leagues and recruiting competition from Canadian Hockey League teams mean change comes even faster than it always has.

In Hockey East, though, there have been a few constants for most of the last two decades. New Hampshire's Dick Umile, Boston University's Jack Parker and Boston College's Jerry York have led their alma maters' programs to consistent success and national prominence during their tenures.

"When I broke into this profession as a volunteer assistant at Maine, they were all head coaches," Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "They've been terrific ambassadors for our sport.

"You look up to those guys in how successful they've been and how successful their programs have been, it speaks to what a great job they've done over the time period."

Last week, Parker announced his retirement at the end of the season — his 40th as BU's coach. His team responded by sweeping Merrimack in the Hockey East quarterfinals to advance to the league semifinals at TD Garden on Friday.

His opponent, of course, will be York's Boston College Eagles. Another issue with his right eye will keep York from the bench on Friday. Regardless, the matchup will feature, yet again, teams from either end of Commonwealth Avenue in the latest installment of The B-Line Rivalry — likely the last involving Parker.

For many, York and Parker are Hockey East. They've won 16 of the 28 Hockey East championships (seven for Parker and nine for York). Parker's announcement last week served as a reminder, though, that the next era of Hockey East approaches faster than many realized. Someone else will take over as BU's coach this summer. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the same will happen for York, 67, and BC.

"You have two legendary coaches that have been in the game for a long time and have had an unbelievable amount of success," Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. "You can't get caught up in that because you're going to be taken with it.

"There are a lot of great coaches in this league, but those two are legendary," Bazin continued. "It's certainly humbling to compete against those guys, but we all want the end result, and we're all competing hard for that."

Third-seeded BU and No. 2 BC play Friday at 8 p.m. In the first semifinal at 5 p.m., Hockey East fans get a look at the league's future and its newest standard-bearers.

UMass-Lowell and Providence play for a spot in the league championship game after successful quarterfinal series of their own. UML's Bazin and PC's Leaman are both in their second seasons leading their programs. It didn't take long for either to transform middling teams into league contenders.

"They've certainly come on very quickly," BC associate head coach Greg Brown said of Bazin and Leaman. "When you're coaching against them or watching film of their teams, you can appreciate what a nice job they're doing. They have their teams playing very solid systematically. Also, they're all playing the same way. It's not a disjointed group of guys. You really can tell that they've got a plan, and they're executing them very well."

UMass-Lowell and Providence met in the league playoffs a season ago. Leaman's seventh-seeded Friars knocked off Bazin's second-seeded River Hawks in three games. Seeing PC at the Garden after missing the previous three tournaments entirely said all it had to. As long as Leaman is running the show in Providence, the Friars always have a chance.

Ditto for Bazin at Lowell. UML won its first-ever Hockey East regular-season championship in 2013 after coming up just short a year ago. In 2011-12, Bazin guided Lowell to a turnaround with a roster largely similar to a 2010-11 team that finished last in Hockey East and won only four of 27 league games. They won 13 more the following season, finishing with 17, and added another 16 this year. Two more wins mean the River Hawks, one of the league's original members, will earn a tournament championship on top of their regular-season crown — another program first.

"I was talking to Dick Umile (Monday night) about (UNH's quarterfinal series with Providence)," Parker said. "He said 'they're a well-coached team, and Nate's a great guy.' I feel the same way about Norm. You couldn't find a more unassuming guy than Norm Bazin. We're dealing with guys that have come (into Hockey East) and slapped us around, and nobody cares because they're nice guys. It's quite a credit to those schools that they picked the guys they picked, and it's quite a credit to those coaches."

Saturday night, the league's past will meet its future to decide the 2013 Hockey East tournament champion.

For 29 years, the strength of Hockey East has been its coaches. York, Parker and Umile are just some of the college hockey icons to grace the benches at the league's old barns. The late Shawn Walsh led Maine to a pair of national championships and an era of dominance in the 1990s.

The future seems just as bright.

Bazin and Leaman are truly rising stars. More established young coaches include Vermont's Kevin Sneddon and Merrimack's Mark Dennehy — both of whom have led their programs to new heights despite some bumps along the way.

Notre Dame's arrival next season brings Jeff Jackson, his 365 career wins and record of winning and program building.

"We've always had good coaches in Hockey East. Hopefully, the trend continues," Parker said.

"I don't know if we like the league being in such good shape," he quipped. "It'd be nice to know you can jump out on the ice and get a 7-2 win once in awhile. Those days are long gone."

Bazin and Leaman. York and Parker — two names representing the league's historic rise to prominence, and two more promising a sterling future. Friday and Saturday night, the past and future of Hockey East will be on display in all three games to decide the 2013 Hockey East tournament champion.

The league's present looks pretty good, too.

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