By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
UMass Lowell celebrated its second consecutive Hockey East tournament championship on Saturday.
Norm Bazin has been the men’s hockey coach for not quite three full seasons, but already he has made a significant impact on not just the program but on the UMass Lowell community at large.
Athletic director Dana Skinner said it has been a remarkable metamorphosis and it is all thanks to the emphasis on the team concept.
“I think it is a Norm thing, but also he went to UMass Lowell and coached at UMass Lowell and has come back to UMass Lowell,’’ said Skinner, prior to the second-seeded River Hawks beating No. 4 seed New Hampshire, 4-0, in the Hockey East championship game at TD Garden Saturday night. “Lowell is a city built by people just working awfully hard and working together. The university is that way. The hockey program has enabled us to put a public face on what has been a remarkable six- or seven-year period at the university.’’
It started with Marty Meehan becoming chancellor, and with that have come building improvements, increased fund-raising, and research dollars, and higher expectations across the board with all the athletic programs being elevated to Division 1.
“So many good things have happened and the visibility of the hockey program has brought it all to light,’’ said Skinner. “It’s given us a broader stage on which to tell that story. It’s been interesting how the pieces have all come together.’’
Skinner can point to one instance that sums up the demeanor that Bazin brings to the program. It happened during the coach’s first season, when the team went from five victories the previous year to 24 in 2011-12. The River Hawks squared off against a loaded Miami University team in the Northeast Regional semifinals and appeared to be in the driver’s seat until the tables were turned.
“We were playing great, we were up, 3-0, and in the third period, here comes Miami,’’ said Skinner. “They looked like an NHL team. They got three goals [to tie it] and were putting pressure on us. Then we got a five-minute penalty with 3:35 left to go in the game. Everybody was devastated. I looked over at the bench and Norm called a timeout and called all the kids in and was calm as can be. He told the kids, ‘If we get through this five-minute stretch, we’re going to win the hockey game.’ ’’
The River Hawks killed off the major, and Riley Wetmore tallied the winner at 2:13 of overtime.
Skinner said Bazin’s calm demeanor has rubbed off on his players.
“He brings such a high level of confidence that calms everybody down, especially in key moments,’’ said Skinner. “There is a maturity to that team. You saw it [this weekend]. There’s a credibility that he brings, a confidence, we all feel it as a staff. [Friday night’s semifinal victory over Notre Dame] was probably as well as we’ve played in a long time so I’m proud of the way they’ve responded to such high expectations.’’
Best of the Bunch
Tourney MVP Connor Hellebuyck was one of four River Hawks named to the All-Tournament team. Hellebuyck, who posted shutouts in the semifinals and final, was joined by center Joseph Pendenza, left wing A.J. White, and defenseman Christian Folin. Notre Dame defenseman Stephen Johns and UNH center Kevin Goumas also made the sqaud . . . For the first time in the 30-year history of Hockey East, neither Boston College, Boston University, nor Maine participated in the conference championship game . . . Lowell and UNH were playing each other in the title game for the first time. Their last postseason meeting was a sweep by UNH in the best-of-three quarterfinals in 2003 . . . This was only the second time the title game featured the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds. The last time was in 2010, when No. 2 BC beat No. 4 Maine . . . Lowell has made five trips to the NCAA Tournament, including its first appearance in the Frozen Four last year . . . The NCAA will announce the 16 teams competing in the Division 1 tournament on Sunday at noon.