Let’s take a trip back, back to the 2010-11 hockey season. Blaise MacDonald was in his 10th year of coaching the Division I UMass Lowell River Hawks and was looking forward to a successful year behind the bench. However, his UMass Lowell squad would finish the season with a horrendous 5-25-4 record.
As most of you know, MacDonald was relieved of his duties as head coach following the 2010-11 season and was soon replaced by current head coach Norm Bazin. The former UMass Lowell forward decided to return to he alma mater, this time as head coach, and see what he could do to return the River Hawks to the glory days the school had as a Division II program. This seemed to have worked.
The year after UMass Lowell’s five-win season, Bazin turned the program around and went 24-13-1 with the River Hawks, taking the team to the NCAA tournament and picking up a Coach of the Year award along the way. Since Bazin’s arrival the school hasn’t looked back and is continuing to move into the upper echelon of Division I hockey programs. He won the university’s first ever Hockey East Regular Season title, back-to-back Hockey East titles and a trip the Frozen Four in only four years as head coach.
With recent improvements to the program and an amazing state-of-the-art facility in the Tsongas Center, some might be asking “Why aren’t the River Hawks getting top-tier recruits to come to the university?”, while others say the opposite “UMass Lowell doesn’t need to bring in top recruits.”
“I think they could [bring in top-talent] but I’m not sure they want to. It’s not really their approach it seems,” said College Hockey News‘ Recruiting Editor Mike McMahon. “To me, Norm has a system and he is exceptional at recruiting players to play within that system. That’s why they’re going to continually be good. The players change but the system doesn’t.”
That is the approach most fans and media that follow the team have. Norm has his system and his coaching staff recruits to that system, not just the best player available. The goal in college hockey is to win the last game of the season and sometimes you don’t need the best player in the country or the most coveted player in the draft to accomplish that goal.
Bazin recruits to his system, but he also recruits players towards the end of their junior career. Most of the River Hawk roster is comprised of kids age 20+, whereas schools like Boston College and Boston University have a much younger roster.
“Most of those ‘elite’ guys are committing at age 15, maybe younger, and I think it’s really hard to project a kid at that age,” continued McMahon. “You’ll know if a kid has skill, but is he going to work hard enough to do the things you want him to do aside from just shooting the puck?”
Part of Bazin’s recruiting process must take into account the kids ability the second he steps onto the ice at the Tsongas Center. Watching a recruit play as long as possible in juniors may let the UMass Lowell coaching staff really project what they will get when the kid arrives on campus.
The recent history of success at UMass Lowell, top-tier facilities, great coaching staff and fans that are behind the team will help the River Hawks recruit players to come to Lowell, but it will always be tough to compete for top-tier recruits with the likes of Boston College, Boston University, Notre Dame, North Dakota, Minnesota and others due to their history and recruiting at a young age.
“They wouldn’t get every top ’00 or ’99 against BC or BU, and they’d still probably even get less because there isn’t a long history there with UMass Lowell yet, but I think they could land a few if it was their focus,” said McMahon. “I don’t think it’s their focus, and given their success, it shouldn’t be. What they’re doing is working.”
With Bazin at the helm the River Hawks will continue to find success, even if they don’t make a splash on the recruiting front. Currently UMass Lowell only has a few verbal commitments for next season and none for the following year. However, with the way Norm has built this program fans shouldn’t worry.
Is it possible for UMass Lowell to recruit top-tier talent? Yes. Is it necessary to compete every year? No. Trust Norm’s system and fans will be happy.[/cointent_lockedcontent]