(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For $50, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Tony Patronick.)
It was the spring of 2010 and things in Lowell were bad, as far as their college’s hockey team went. They had just wrapped up a five-win season, the worst in program history at the Division 1 level, and fired the coach, and were consequently on the lookout for a new one. The usual names that come up every time there’s a coaching hire to be made came up, and none were especially realistic. In the end, Lowell turned to a former River Hawk to take over behind the bench.
That coach was Norm Bazin, late of Div. 3 Hamilton College, where he’d won his conference’s coach of the year award twice in a row, following a lengthy career as an assistant at Lowell, and then Colorado College. His was not the sexiest name in the mix, and most observers thought he’d do fine, but that these River Hawks would win something on the order of eight to 10 games in the 2010-11 season.
They won 24.
It was the single biggest turnaround by a new coach from one season to the next, 19 more wins, in NCAA history, and the River Hawks finished second in Hockey East, a league in which they’d closed 10th of 10 just a year before. They made the national tournament for the first time since 1996, knocking off Miami University in overtime before succumbing to Union in the regional final.
The next year, they improved on that performance across the board: 28 wins, the team’s first regular-season and playoff titles, and a trip to the Frozen Four for the first time ever. So far this season, they have 21 wins from 34 games, and would need basically every result to go against them over the next two weeks to miss the NCAAs. Lowell had never made the tournament twice in a row, let alone thrice.
The style of play Bazin’s Lowell teams play is active, to say nothing of its effectiveness. They can cycle like madmen when they’re effective, with mobile defensemen and forwards switching off at the points regularly and scoring a ludicrous amount of second- and third-opportunity goals. But they also score almost as many in transition, and that’s where they really kill teams. When they’re getting defensemen forward, there are likely few teams in the nation more lethal.
But with that having been said, this is a team that has been accused of playing “boring” and “defensive” hockey. Which is interesting because of how wrong it is. Over the last three seasons, Lowell has outshot opponents pretty handily (3634-3302 over 113 games, or 32.2-29.2 per game, which is 52.4 percent), but the reason they have this stigma attached, if you want to call it that, is they collapse their defense extremely well at even strength, their goalies are pretty much always fantastic (.929 in 113 games), and block a pretty decent number of shots. However, even looking at their corsi numbers — with the acknowledgement that SOG don’t reflect possession 100 percent accurately — they’re still pretty comfortably above water.
As a result of this, the list of other Div. 1 coaches to win more games than Bazin’s 73 over the last three seasons is not very long at all, and this is for a program operates on what you can bet is a relatively shoestring budget among the traditional giants of college hockey. The fact is, this is a program that gets little in the way of national recognition and. Or did until he took over, at any rate.
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