MONTREAL - Long before Christian Folin was plying his trade on the Canadiens' blue line, he was making a name for himself with the UMass Lowell River Hawks.
Folin spent two seasons in the NCAA ranks, sporting the River Hawks' colors during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns, both of which culminated in Hockey East Tournament titles.
We recently caught up with Folin's former head coach, Norm Bazin, to learn more about the 28-year-old Swedish rearguard's time under his tutelage in Middlesex County.
What comes to mind when you think back to coaching Christian?
NORM BAZIN: Resiliency. I admire his work ethic and his resiliency. He didn't start off here as quickly as he probably wanted or as we would have wanted. We actually left him behind on our first road trip. It was our second weekend of the season. I called back to my power skating coach to find out how he was doing, and he not only did the power skating session, but he was doing a great job in the gym when nobody was around. Right there, I knew he was going to turn out to be fine. He just kept getting better and better, and my greatest compliment for Christian is that he just keeps on getting better. I really appreciate that in a hockey player, that he just continues to work at it.
What stood out most about his game?
NB: He had the ability to make plays in tight. He could break out through the middle. He could break out the traditional way up the wall. But, the fact that he could break the puck out up the middle and he had a real heavy shot - and he could play some minutes on your special teams - made him a really valuable asset. When you can play at even-strength and you can play special teams, you can double your options that way. For us, he was just an excellent team guy that put his team ahead of his own stats. We put him in positions to not only move the puck up the ice, but we also put him in positions on the power play to put the puck on net - and that's why he picked up some points. His break out ability, his ability to keep shots to the outside defending, and his overall game were all things that stood out to me.
Tell us about the progress you saw in Christian's game during those two seasons with the River Hawks.
NB: The progression was just pure hard work and an unwillingness to be denied. He grew from a standpoint of gaining your trust as a coach. As a coach, you know the guys that look flashy maybe early in the season, but you have to respect the guys that keep working at their craft throughout the season and are their best when it counts. He helped us win two Hockey East championships in a row. That was pretty special because they'd never won championships here ever. We ended up being in the championship game five years in a row and won it one more time in 2017 after he left. Christian helped set the foundation for a very, very successful decade. Winning those two championships at the TD Garden, that was a big deal. I liked the fact that he was a guy you could depend on and go to war with. He's one of those guys that you love to have in your lineup because you don't have to worry if he's going to show up. He's there every day.
What made Christian such a highly sought after prospect following his freshman season in the NCAA?
NB: The fact that he was a right-handed shot, the fact that he had some size, the fact that he had a hard shot and played on winning teams here, I think all that played into putting a lot of attention on him. I haven't had a player since him that did such a great job to put all that aside and just play. That's why I know he can handle playing in Montreal. We had all our GM meetings in the summer after his freshman year, and when his sophomore season started, he said 'I'll re-visit this when the season's over.' That was it. He changed his phone number, and that was it. I thought that was incredibly mature. I haven't had a guy since then that has handled it as well since him. He was so diligent about taking care of business during the year. He did a hell of a job for us the whole way through.
What can you tell us about Christian Folin, the person?
NB: His dry sense of humor is terrific. He's got some of the stoic Swede in him, from the standpoint that he's going to be serious for a little bit and when you get to know him, he's very, very funny. He has a great sense of humor. Over a long season, I'm sure it comes in handy in the locker room. He's a good team guy. I'm sure the guys will love him. He doesn't say a ton, but when it comes out, it's pretty well-timed. He has what you might call dry wit humor. Christian is also a very mature kid. Not too much bothers him. He's very workmanlike. He knows what he has to do to prepare himself. He goes about his business. I think that's very valuable.
Do you keep tabs of Christian now?
NB: I do. I love watching kids like him because he came at it as a guy who signed late, who was maybe termed a late-developer, but who really worked at his craft. I respect those guys tremendously. I look for him to play his best hockey in the coming years. People say he's a little older, but I'm not worried about that. He's done it that way his whole life. I do think there's a select few guys that get better with age, and he's one of those guys. He's one of those guys that can continue to get better and defy the odds a little bit. You're going to get the best version of Christian Folin. I truly believe that.