LOWELL — It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, but drunks don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing and the woman who slammed her car into Norm Bazin was drunk.
It took them an hour to get Bazin out of the wreck that was his car. And by the time he got to the hospital in Spokane, it didn’t look good. The priest gave him the last rites.
But a doctor named Coulston wouldn’t give up on him, and Bazin wouldn’t give up on himself or his wife, who was home, seven months pregnant.
Dr. Coulston got the bleeding from a torn aorta to subside enough so that Bazin didn’t die.
That was 10 years ago. Bazin survived, named his son after the doctor who saved his life, and went back to coaching the game he loves: hockey.
Two years ago, Bazin came back to his alma mater here, hard by the Merrimack, as head coach of the UMass-Lowell men’s hockey team.
The River Hawks were coming off a season during which they had won only five games.
Last year, Bazin led them to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years. And next week, Norm Bazin will lead the River Hawks into the Frozen Four, two wins from the national championship.
Bazin labors in the shadow of two of the greatest coaches, and two of the greatest human beings, in the game of college hockey, and they are Jerry York, of the Boston College Yorks, and Jackie Parker, who just retired from Boston University.
Around these parts, BC, the defending national champs, and BU compete for the NCAA title so often that we’re spoiled by their perpetual greatness.
But Norm Bazin carries himself with the same class as York and Parker, and his players are worthy standard bearers and everybody, and I mean everybody, should be pulling like hell for the great kids at UMass-Lowell.
I spent the last couple of days in Lowell, and believe me when I tell you this town is buzzing.
It’s a city that has seen its share of heartache and decay and decline. But this is a city on the rebound, and the regeneration of this old mill town is very much a piece of the growth and revitalization of the university led by former congressman Marty Meehan.
Because our state government is led by boneheads, the UMass system is starved for cash.
Like all the UMass campuses, UMass-Lowell gets a pittance from the state, just 22 percent of its budget.
In the six years Meehan has been chancellor, he’s raised $65 million privately for UMass-Lowell. And that’s not just because Marty Meehan can talk a dog away from a bone.
It’s because people who grew up or went to school here love the town, love the people, love the spirit.
“People who know Lowell love Lowell,” Meehan told me.
“This is more than a hockey tournament. This is very big for our city. It’s very big for our university. It’s a defining moment.”
Norm Bazin’s near-death experience is a metaphor for Lowell, a city that is being reborn before our very eyes.
“I love these kids,” Bazin told me, just minutes before he led the River Hawks out onto the ice for a practice at the Tsongas Center.
“We don’t have a top five scorer in our league, and we barely have a top 10 scorer. We have good goaltending, a great defense, and forwards who don’t quit. This town should be very proud of this team, because these kids are good students and good players. They work hard and never give up.”
After 9/11, the great French newspaper, Le Monde, ran a headline proclaiming, “We Are All Americans,” a beautiful statement of solidarity.
My French is lousy, but here goes: Nous Sommes Tous Faucons de la Riviere.
We Are All River Hawks.