April 10, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Following His Leader

Houk Heads to Lowell After Bazin

by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH — Norm Bazin isn't the only River Hawk who made the move from Hamilton College to Massachusetts-Lowell two years ago. With Bazin came defenseman Joe Houk, who was a Division III First Team All-American in 2010-11. After redshirting last season, Houk has emerged as a top four defenseman for Lowell this season. He enters the Frozen Four tied for the team lead with a plus-17 rating.

Houk wasn't so sure he wanted to go to Lowell when Bazin first asked him about transferring, though. He loved being at Hamilton, and the idea of moving to a new school and jumping to Division I seemed a bit daunting.

"I was a little hesitant at first," Houk said. "It's completely different atmosphere from Hamilton to Lowell. But I'm glad I did it. It's been a once-in-a-lifetime experience so far."

So far, Houk's time at Lowell has been one big learning curve. The 22-year-old junior said he could see how much faster the Division I game was as soon as he started practicing with the River Hawks last year. Throughout the last two seasons, his focus has been on improving his defensive play.

There were some tough games for Houk at the beginning of this season, and some reminders that he still had a lot of work to do. He was a minus-3 at Denver, a minus-2 at Boston College and a healthy scratch in four of Lowell's first 12 games. As Houk gained more game experience, though, he got more comfortable and began to provide the physical play and solid defense that has earned him a permanent spot in the lineup.

"I think redshirting last year was good. That helped me transition," Houk said. "The coaching staff has helped me a lot, just working on my skills before, during and after practice. There was definitely an adjustment period earlier this year, but, as the season's gone on, I think I've progressed better and better. I just have to keep getting better every game."

Because Houk had so much work to do defensively, he had to sacrifice some of the offense that had won him so many awards at Hamilton. He averaged more than a point per game there and scored 17 goals as a sophomore. This season, however, he has 11 assists and has yet to score a goal. Bazin knows Houk is capable of contributing more on offense, and he said he expects that to start showing up.

"Joe is an excellent offensive threat. You haven't seen that too much at the Division I level yet, but I think he's maturing into that," Bazin said. "He's had to learn to deal with bigger, stronger, faster players this year, and it's taken him a while to defend. He's still working on his offensive game and perfecting his defensive game a little bit more as the season's progressed. But I think in time he'll grow into more of an offensive threat."

Throughout the second half, Houk has been paired with another older first-year player — 22-year-old freshman Christian Folin. Folin has emerged as a great two-way defenseman, posting 21 points (19 of which have come in the second half) to go along with a plus-17 rating. Houk said the chemistry between the two has really helped both players.

"Christian loves to hit, too. Me and him out there, we're kind of like the Bash Brothers," Houk said. "We have a lot of similar hobbies, too. We both like to kick the soccer ball around. We both like house music. It's pretty cool. I think we have really good chemistry. We talk a lot on the ice. He has that Swedish accent, and I have a Philadelphia accent, so people like to make fun of us for that. We just have a lot of fun on the ice and off the ice."

Houk hopes to have a lot more fun this weekend. He may not appear on any Frozen Four highlight reels, but if Lowell is to win its first national championship, the stellar defense he's provided throughout the second half will be a big part of it.

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