LOWELL – UMass Lowell has already ripped the pole from everyone else in Hockey East as the new flag bearer for Hockey East after unseating perennial powers Boston College, Boston University and New Hampshire by winning the league’s regular season and tournament championships.
Last weekend, the River Hawks sent another longstanding power, Wisconsin, home for the season and then ended the Wildcats’ year in Manchester, advancing to this week’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
There, the River Hawks hope they can usher in a new era nationally. St. Cloud State, Yale and Quinnipiac will join the River Hawks in Pittsburgh, guaranteeing there will be a first-time national champion on Saturday night.
“It’s certainly exciting for our program,” said second-year head coach Norm Bazin, who played for the River Hawks from 1990 to 1994. “This is a vastly different school than when I went here. I mean, we’re talking 20 years ago. The progress on campus has been outstanding and you have to start there, quite frankly, because we’re well supported.”
Support isn’t something Lowell’s program has always had and success, at least in the last decade, is relatively new as well.
In 2007, there was speculation that the program may have been eliminated altogether due to concerns from Board of Trustees Chair Stephen Tocco. As a matter of fact, that was the second time there was a groundswell among people in charge to potentially rid the university of its hockey program while plans were in place to emphasize the Amherst campus as the “premiere” of the university’s structure.
This was also at a time that the university did not own the Tsongas Center. They were simply a tenant to the city of Lowell and at times had to play second fiddle to a series of fledgling American Hockey League franchises.