Last week’s 4-3 win over Southern New Hampshire represented more then just a milestone for Nichols’ head coach Lou Izzi; it’s also a symbol of the drastic change the program has gone through during his tenure.
“It was brought to my attention; I knew I was approaching it,” Izzi said of the win mark. “When I came to Nichols, I don’t think I ever dreamed of getting to 100 wins, considering where the program had been at the time. We were just trying to have a winning season.”
After helping league rival Johnson and Wales transform its hockey program from a Division II club team to a varsity squad, Izzi came to Nichols in 2004-05 after spending six years with the Wildcats, including four winning seasons.
A winning season was something that had eluded the Bisons for sometime prior to Izzi’s arrival. Nichols won only 18 games in the five years prior to Izzi taking over, and hadn’t posted a winning mark since the 1978-79 campaign.
“What makes me happy is being 38 games over .500 in six plus years,” Izzi said. “When you look back at the history of the program, it was really regarded as one of the weakest in all of America when I was at JWU. It was a tough sell, trying to convince kids to come to a small school in New England where there was so much competition for players.”
After going 4-17-2 in his first year, Izzi and current Bowdoin assistant coach Jeff Pellegrini’s first recruiting class paid large dividends for the Bisons, as they went 18-7-2, marking the most wins in a season in school history.
Izzi said his experience at Johnson and Wales gave him a road map to follow in terms of turning around the program at Nichols.
“[We] went to the Midwest and found some good players and were able to weed out the guys who didn’t have the ability to play at this level or had a bad attitude. They all had an opportunity to go to other places, but we presented them with a chance to come here and carve out their own identity as opposed to going to established programs.”
Izzi said he didn’t expect to win right away at Nichols, instead hoping to stack together some solid recruiting classes for down the road.
“The biggest thing with building any team is that you can’t take shortcuts,” he said. “Sometimes when guys get in a rush, they take a chance with kids that they probably shouldn’t have. The second time around, I can definitely say that I was a better coach then I was at Johnson and Wales. I had a lot of perspective and experience and I was able to take a step back and figure out what went well and what didn’t and create a philosophy I wanted to live by.”
While there have been some bumps in the road, Izzi is proud of what he’s accomplished at Nichols, not just on the ice.
“We’ve been able to identify the quality of kids that give us an honest effort every day and approach academics the right way. That’s been our core philosophy for seven years. We were very fortunate to have a great group of kids at the start of the second season. They went on to graduate, get masters degrees and some are still playing pro hockey.”
Nichols’ current assistant, Nick Unger, was a goalie in that initial class.
When thinking of his milestone win, Izzi said he will most remember the players and the back-to-back 20-win seasons Nichols had in 2007-08 and 2008-09, including a trip to the NCAA tournament in the latter season.
While winning remains the goal this year, Izzi said the idea wasn’t necessarily to try and crack the 20-win plateau again. The Bisons are 7-7-1 and 1-3 in ECAC Northeast play, but have played a number of tough out-of-conference opponents, including defending national champion Norwich, along with Babson, Williams, Adrian, and Hobart.
While a tough out-of-conference schedule can better a team for conference play, Izzi said there’s a fine line between playing tough teams and overloading things, adding that getting pounded 10-1 and losing players to injuries against more physical teams won’t do much good down the stretch.
“You have to win conference games and non-conference games against teams similar to yours before you take on a schedule like this,” he said.
With 10 games left, all against ECAC Northeast opponents, Izzi said his team has adopted the viewpoint of this being a 10-game season.
“Every game is big,” he said. “I don’t want to say the nonconference games didn’t count, but really how our season is going to be defined will take place over the next ten games.”
A couple of midweek games in the books for both the ECAC Northeast and MASCAC as teams are winding down their nonconference portion of the schedule. Suffolk edged Tufts, 4-3, in overtime Tuesday night behind an Andrew Monesi goal late in the third period. Salve Regina lost to Connecticut College 10-0, while Massachuesetts-Boston downed Massachusetts-Dartmouth 6-2. Check back on Friday for a full preview of all the weekend’s action as the conference races start to intensify.