UMass-Lowell hockey wins first regular season title in team history, continues program turnaround

Published On March 11, 2013 | By Hung Vong

The UMass-Lowell River Hawks secured the No. 1 seed and won this season’s Hockey East title in Saturday’s seeding pandemonium. Now, they look to face No. 8 seed Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals next Thursday. These River Hawks will already go down in their program’s history as the most successful, because none before them had won a regular season title. And, just three seasons ago, the River Hawks were the joke of Hockey East instead of the champions.

UML owns a 16-9-2 record in Hockey East and a 22-10-2 record overall. But in the 2010-2011 season, they finished at 4-21-2. That’s right. Four wins.

A large part in their turnaround can be credited to coach Norm Bazin.

The biggest turnaround was between the 2010-11 and last season. The River Hawks ended a 16-year drought by making the NCAA tournament in 2012. Their first-year coach Norm Bazin was named Hockey East Coach of the Year in 2012.

Coach Bazin also almost died a decade ago.

Right before Thanksgiving in 2003, Bazin was driving to Trail, British Columbia to recruit for Colorado College when a drunken driver crashed into his rental car, severing his aorta. Bazin sustained broken bones in nearly his entire body, and needed 12 hours of surgery to save his life. He  spent eight days in a medically induced coma and required two months of treatment at Spokane hospital, in Washington.

Bazin played left wing for the River Hawks from 1990-94. Once hired, Bazin contacted fellow alumni to help raise more than $250,000 to upgrade the team’s training center in 2012. The average attendance at River Hawks game in Bazin’s first season as coach was over 5,000, the largest in university history, according to the New York Times.

In 2008, the River Hawks hockey program, the only Division I sport at UMass-Lowell, was almost scraped, according to UMass-Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner, who hired Bazin.

Backed by solid goaltending from Doug Carr, Bazin worked to create a well-rounded offensive attack in order to turn the River Hawks back into solid competitors.

Here’s a breakdown of how the numbers have changed for the River Hawks over the last few years.

  • The 2012-2013 team featured nine players with 10 or more assists, and five players with 10 or more goals
  • The 2011-2012 team had 10 players with 10 or more assists, and seven players with 10 or more goals
  • The 2010-2011 team had six players with 10 or more assists, but four players who scored 10 or more goals

Given such statistics, goaltending clearly wasn’t the issue. In the 2010-2011 season, the River Hawks barely scored any goals and hardly moved the puck around.

“I would not have predicted this success so quickly,” Skinner said in 2012. “We thought Norm was the best candidate, and he would restore enthusiasm among the players and re-engage the rest of the school in the hockey program. But this many wins and an N.C.A.A. tournament bid in his first year? Beyond our wildest expectations.”

The River Hawks have been beyond anyone’s wildest expectations the past two seasons. And Bazin is at the center of their success.

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