Despite the fact that the Michigan Tech Huskies have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament under current head coach Mel Pearson, fans of the Huskies have a reason to check out the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks’ Frozen Four matchup with the Yale Bulldogs. Former Huskies’ goaltender Cam Ellsworth is on the staff for the Riverhawks.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said Ellsworth. “A lot of the relationships have been awesome. Obviously, having success within the hockey program has been great, especially in a short time.”
Ellsworth has risen quickly through the coaching ranks since ending his playing days in 2008. A member of the Soo Indians of the North American Hockey League for two seasons, Ellsworth started parts of four seasons for the Huskies from 2001-05. He won 27 games in a Huskies’ jersey.
After finishing his college career, Ellsworth moved on to the East Coast Hockey League, where he saw action with five teams in three seasons. His most successful run came during the 2005-06 season with the Greenville Grrowl, where he notched 22 victories in 34 appearances.
Hanging up his skates in 2008, Ellsworth returned to junior hockey as an assistant coach in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with the Sioux City Musketeers. He spent three seasons with the Musketeers.
“It was definitely not seamless,” said Ellsworth of the transition to coaching. “I spent three seasons in the USHL. I thought that was huge part of being able to make that transition. You learn a lot in the USHL.”
Ellsworth gleaned much from his early experience behind the bench. He had the opportunity to work with game film, recruiting, strategic planning and more during his time with the Musketeers.
“You learn a lot about the other side of hockey,” said Ellsworth. “It’s not just about showing up for practice and leaving, it’s all the work behind the scenes. I that helped me, it gave me a good, strong foothold to put myself out there to get a job.”
New River Hawks’ head coach Norm Bazin liked what he saw in Ellsworth’s resume and skill set, and the new bench boss felt his enthusiasm would rub off on the players if given the chance.
“I kind of fit with what [Norm] wanted,” said Ellsworth. “He knew kind of who I was from when I played at Michigan Tech. I think the goaltending piece was a big part for me. [I am] somebody who played the position and had enough of a resume with the kids that I was currently working with as they were moving on to Division I and having success.”
Ellsworth had an immediate impact on River Hawks’ goaltending. In his first season, team save percentage jumped from .896 to .917. Team goals against average dropped from 3.95 to 2.43.
“I do a lot of pre-practice work,” said Ellsworth. “Most notably with the goaltenders, but also with anyone else who is out there. When I’m around, I am fully involved with the development of everybody day-to-day.”
Recruiting also takes up a large portion of Ellsworth’s attention during the season. Since the River Hawks are not as well-known as Boston University or Boston College, he focuses on trying to show players that Massachusetts-Lowell can give them what they are looking for.
“What we have to offer a student-athlete is, I believe, very competitive with any team in the country,” said Ellsworth. “When Norm took over, the team had just five wins, so initially we thought there were lots of opportunities for kids. We soon found out we had a lot of good players and pieces. We just try to find kids who fit our mold.”
The River Hawks have indeed found that they are a much better program than the one that went 5-25-4 in 2010-11. Bazin’s squads have won 24 and 28 games in the last two seasons. They became the first squad in school history to win the Hockey East Regular Season and Playoff titles. Ellsworth and his fellow staff have not reflected on that success yet.
“I don’t think any of us has sat down and processed anything that has happened yet,” said Ellsworth. “Right now we have a singular focus. It’s almost like we’re living in a bubble a little bit.”
The success has not gone unnoticed by people surrounding the program. Ellsworth has been humbled at the response from alumni and fans as the season has continued.
“I think we are in the Top 10 in attendance in the country,” said Ellsworth. “For those people who support the program and supported the school, I think it’s fantastic to be able to share this. It’s cool to share that with so many passionate people that are involved in the program. Hopefully we can have one more good weekend to top it off.”