There were no locker rooms at the old hockey rink where the University of Lowell practiced in the 1970s.
But, Tom Jacobs said in 2006, "It smelled like a locker room."
Gary Bishop remembers "practicing on an outdoor rink without a roof."
From such beginnings Bill Riley built an NCAA Division II power after taking over as head coach at Lowell Technological Institute in 1969. Richard Morrison, the outgoing coach, told Riley the team would never be a winner.
Riley proved him wrong. He led LTI to five winning seasons in the next six years. Then, in 1975, LTI merged with Lowell State to become the University of Lowell. And John Duff, who was hired as the newly merged school's president in 1976, was behind hockey.
"We were playing in a dumpy rink and I never thought it would lead to anything," John Jaskul, who transferred to ULowell in 1976 from a New York junior college, said in 2002. "But as the team got better every year, you could see something was happening."
The breakthrough came after the arrival of All-American Craig MacTavish in 1977.
Credited as the catalyst for ULowell's hockey program, the center netted 26 goals and 45 points in 24 games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he set a school record that still stands with 88 points in 31 games (36 goals and 52 assists).
And in 1979, MacTavish, Jacobs and Kevin Charbonneau helped lead ULowell to the sports moment judged the greatest in school history. The Chiefs, as they were known then, beat Mankato State (now Minnesota State) 6-4 to win the first of their three Division II national championships.
Jacobs scored twice, tournament MVP MacTavish had a goal and two assists and and goalie Brian Doyle made 35 saves.
"We started with next to nothing. It's a testament to Bill Riley," Gene Hayes said in 2006. "He did a fabulous job. And the class ahead of us showed us the way; they laid the foundation."
ULowell won two more Division II championships, in 1981 and 1982, before moving up to NCAA Division I and Hockey East in 1984. Now the UMass Lowell River Hawks and part of the University of Massachusetts system, the team reached the Frozen Four for the first time in 2013.
UML lost in the semifinals to eventual national champion Yale 3-2 in overtime. The game marked another turning point for Riley's legacy.
Still, Riley says, "my dream, was to make Lowell Tech as competitive and as prominent a hockey power as Michigan Tech, which in those days was a big power," he said in 2013. "I'm proud to say, it's finally coming true."
• UMass Lowell Hall of Fame
On the cover: ULowell's NCAA Division II champions in 1982. (Courtesy UMass Lowell Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Maine and Marshall
• Tuesday: Massachusetts (UMass) and Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell)
• Wednesday: McNeese and Memphis
• Thursday: Mercer and Merrimack
• Friday: Miami (Ohio) and Michigan Tech