PITTSBURGH -- When 21-year-old Christian Folin and the rest of UMass-Lowell's hockey team were preparing for their 2013 Hockey East Tournament semifinal game against Providence College, Head Coach Norm Bazin brought in a picture of the Lou Lamoriello trophy.
"I had everybody hold a piece of paper just like it was a trophy, and I said, 'The next time you're going to see this, you're going to be holding it up,'" Bazin said, "and it came true."
As Folin recounts his two seasons as a River Hawk, he quickly paints that story. It's part of his fond memories of playing at TD Garden, where Hockey East, the college conference UMass Lowell plays in, hosts the semi final and final rounds of its conference tournament.
Lowell had never won a Hockey East Championship before Folin's freshman season. By the time he signed with the Wild after his sophomore year, they had added two Lamoriello trophies to their case.
"I love playing in that building," Folin said. "I've played four games there so far and I've won all four of them, and it's a pretty special building. It was the best part of my college career to go play those games there at the Garden, and to win the Hockey East championship."
The love affair will be rekindled on Thursday, when Folin makes his first appearance at TD Garden since winning the 2014 Hockey East Championship. Last season, Folin did not travel with the Wild to Boston due to an illness.
"You prepare all season to be able to play in those games at the end of the year," Folin said. "It's a long season, but you always have your eye on that."
It wasn't just that Lowell won two championships; the River Hawks did so in rather convincing fashion. Outside of winning all four games Folin played there, Lowell allowed one goal-against over the 240 minutes of hockey.
"I don't think we ever talked about defense," Bazin said. "We talked about making plays, and if you make enough plays, and you're strong enough … and it manifested itself into not giving up goals."
Folin had a goal and an assist in the 2014 tournament, which, paired with his stellar defensive play, earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team. College hockey does not keep time on ice statistics, but Folin's deployment when Lowell got to TD Garden was Suter-esque.
"We had a great team effort both years," Folin said. "We were really sound defensively, had great goaltending, but that's kind of the style we played at Lowell, too. We were really defensive, and blue collar, and we worked really hard. It really paid off."
By the time Folin finished his sophomore season, he was one of the most coveted free agent college players on the market. Bazin said what set Folin apart was his work ethic.
"The first road trip of his freshman year, I didn't take him," Bazin said. "I called back from Colorado Springs where we were playing … and my volunteer skating coach told me he was an absolute beast as far as the power skating, and the work he did in the weight room, and that's when no one was there to look, and no one was there to supervise.
"I said, 'this kid is going to be something special.'"
Folin was very complementary of both Bazin and then-Lowell assistant Jason Lammers.
"They really worked with me on a day-to-day basis, and it really improved my game, and got my game to where it is today," he said. "I have them to thank for a lot, but just being out there and learning the more defensive systems and playing a role, that's one of the reason why I'm here today."
Should Folin play on Thursday, it will be the first time his younger brother Niklas will get to see him in live NHL action. Also a defenseman, Niklas is currently a freshman for Lowell, ranked fifth in the country in the latest polls.
"I have my brother out there, and a lot of my freshman class when I moved in, they're seniors now, so I'm hoping they're going to come out and watch me play too, so I'm really looking forward to that trip," Folin said.
Nearly three years after showing Folin and his teammates the Lamoriello Trophy, Bazin is glad that memory has stood out.
"For me, I don't know where I got the inspiration," Bazin said. "I certainly didn't draw it from any story or anything like that. I just came up with that because it was very important for me to give the guys the right mindset going into that.
"You go to a tournament like that, and it's great to participate, but it's better to win it."