Massachusetts-Lowell turns to alum Bazin to lead program

The Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks announced their sixth head coach in school history on Thursday, and for the first time they are turning to an alum to lead the program.

Norm Bazin, who played for the River Hawks from 1990 through 1994 and was a part of the senior class that led Lowell within a goal of the Frozen Four in 1994, will take the reins at Lowell after Blaise MacDonald was released by the program in March.

“[Norm Bazin] won this job far and away,” UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin T. Meehan said. “When I think about the intangibles he brings, the fact that he’s an alum, the fact that I think he’s going to be able to engage our community — our university community, the community at large — I think that’s really important.”

“We wanted someone who could create an environment whereby the student would want to be at the rink every day,” said Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner. “We also wanted someone who understood that hockey at UMass-Lowell was in many ways the public face of a growing institution.”

That growth was a major theme at Thursday’s news conference. A year ago, the university purchased the building it plays in, the Tsongas Center, and plunked $5 million into renovations in an attempt to make it one of the most attractive arenas to both recruits and fans. On Thursday, the school announced a “Back to Glory Road” campaign that will help raise funds to help the hockey program succeed.

Meehan put forth a challenge to all hockey alumni to re-engage with the program and support it financially.

Of course, with the renewed commitment to the program comes pressure for Bazin to succeed in ever-competitive Hockey East, a league that the River Hawks have never won and in which they haven’t finished higher than fourth place since 1996.

“Progress will take some time and it will take a lot of hard work and determination,” said Bazin. “But I can tell you standing here that I’ve been through it as a player and as a coach. It will come.

“Our expectation from everyone involved is excellence. I don’t ask anything of my players that I don’t ask of myself, and that’s excellence on and off the ice.”

Success, though, is part of Bazin’s history. Most recently, he served as the head coach at Division III Hamilton, leading the Continentals to a 48-31-7 mark in three seasons. That included an 11-4-4 league mark last season, in which the Continentals led the regular-season NESCAC standings. Bazin was the NESCAC’s coach of the year in each of the last two seasons and is a finalist for the Edward Jeremiah Award as the Division III national coach of the year this season.

Before coaching at Hamilton, Bazin spent eight seasons at Colorado College as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. It was there that Bazin may have conquered the biggest battle of his life when he survived a head-on car accident while recruiting. It took two years for Bazin to fully recover but that moment served as a major inspiration in his life.

“I think I might have a healthier perspective than most. I rarely have a bad day,” said Bazin, reflecting on the second chance at life he was given after the accident. “Every day is a good day in Norm Bazin’s life. When you lose a couple of games, [I’m] never happy, just like everybody else. But I think perspective-wise, I’m pretty sound.”

On the ice at Colorado College, Bazin was part of a coaching staff that had significant success, recruiting two Hobey Baker Award winners (Peter Sejna and Marty Sertich), 13 All-Americans and 12 players who went on to play in the NHL. The team also won three WCHA titles and made six NCAA tournament appearances between 2000 and 2008, reaching the Frozen Four in 2005.

Bazin began his coaching career at Lowell under Tim Whitehead in 1996 and spent four years behind the Lowell bench before heading to Colorado College.

As a player, Bazin played four seasons for the River Hawks, spending three years as a role player before breaking out for 20 goals his senior year. That season, Lowell made the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history, beating Michigan State 4-3 before losing to Minnesota 2-1 in double overtime in the regional final. Since that time the River Hawks have made the NCAA tournament just once, in 1996. That’s something that Bazin hopes to change.

“We will play a style that is a puck-possession game, an up-tempo style,” said Bazin. “It will rely on speed and toughness. I’m sure these players can make that adjustment very easily.

“We expect to compete for the three major championships. I’ve been involved in four league championships [at Colorado College] and I crave to do it again.”