UMass Lowell's 2010-11 season was one to forget. The RiverHawks finished last in the Hockey East standings and were 5-25-4 overall. It was time for a change.
Enter head coach Norm Bazin. In two seasons, the Lowell alum has turned the program around and brought them to the first Frozen Four in school history this week as they prepare to face Yale.
Senior captain Riley Wetmore was on that 5-win team and didn't imagine he'd ever be two wins away from national title when that 2010-11 ended.
"Not this quick did I think Lowell would be up this high, to be honest," said Wetmore in a phone interview last week. "I didn't really know what Coach Bazin was going to bring in. The changes that we made around here, things have been working."
Lowell has put on a defensive show lately allowing just 10 goals in their last 10 games, including shutouts in two of their last three. Wetmore is hoping their run continues for at least two more games.
"It's huge to go to the Frozen Four, but we don't want to just go there and say we're a team there," said Wetmore. "We want to go there for two games and win."
We spoke with Wetmore last week about Coach Bazin's influence, Lowell's tough early schedule and why he chose Lowell. Enjoy.
For you and the other guys that were on that 5-win team, has that season been something that fueled you this year?
Yeah, absolutely. You never wanted to be that team that has five wins or the last place team in the league. It was something that I know last year we took a lot of pride in every night we played. Last year I feel we didn't really have a target on our backs, just because we did have that 5-win season, so teams kind of took us lightly.
What has Coach Bazin done these last two years to bring Lowell to this point?
The biggest thing he did was bring the culture of the team back. He played here, it's his alma mater, and he just made sure guys were going to start being held accountable. That from freshman to seniors. I felt in years past it was always the guys that were going to move on to play professional hockey that were the ones in the gym working out. To be a good team in this league you need everyone. You need all 20 guys that are playing, or on our team all 27 guys just working together. He really instilled that in us early on when he got here. It's worked since then.
Was there a point during this season that you felt this team was special and you could go on a run like this?
We didn't have the start we wanted. We just went on a little streak before Christmas and then after we were at Vermont and at Clarkson and we won both of those [series]. When you can sweep on the road like that two weekends in a row is something special. So we just built off that.
You mentioned the start... how big of an effect did playing some of those top teams early on help you guys the rest of the way?
It was kind of a barometer for us, like what coach ha always said. [It] just kind of gave us perspective of what the best in the league is. We knew we could play with them, we were just a couple steps behind them early on in the season. We weren't all on the same page. We weren't all bought into this new system this year. We were trying to do each other's jobs. Once we realized that if we work together and did our own jobs and trusted each other we could play with those teams. That showed the second half.
One big reason for success this season has been the team's resiliency, even when giving up the first goal of the game. What can you attribute that to? The coaching? The leadership on the team? Both?
I'd say that. I think the belief in the locker room it's a little different than in year's past. The 5-win season if we got down it was going to be like "OK, here we go again". This year we have [Connor Hellebuyck] in net, who's been playing so solid in there. We just know we do get a goal and we can come back and we have a chance to win the game. We haven't had too many goals against here all through playoffs, just because he's played so well. And our team defense... we have guys blocking shots every night and just helping each other out. The sacrifice from them is at a whole new level right now.
Coming out of Vermont, what was it that made you choose Lowell versus anywhere else?
I played junior with two guys that were on Lowell and they loved it here. My family is all from Massachusetts, as well. So it was kind of an easy choice. Not every school has a chancellor that's so involved like they do at Lowell. Everyone could talk to him and he's just a very personal person. I felt right. My mom came down with me and we both agreed that this is where I wanted to end up. [I] wouldn't have changed anything.
Tomorrow: Josh Balch from Yale
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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