Jan. 9, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- Men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves answered questions at the return of Wisconsin's weekly Monday news conference following a break for the holidays. Eaves answered questions about improved special teams play, the upcoming schedule and UW's success in Mankato, among other topics. A full transcript follows.
Watch the archived video.
QUESTION #1: Obviously encouraging to win two games, but to win two games in different fashions, what does that say heading into the second half of the year?
Mike Eaves: Well, it indicates a growth by our young group, which was fun to see. As we talked about Saturday after the game, the fact that we overcame some adversity in the second period and kept our heads on straight. If you talk about maturity, it would seem that we had a level of that in that second game. The goals were going in pretty easy, or easier, not easy, easier on Friday night.
It was funny watching the game film, Justin had just as many excellent opportunities the first half of that game Saturday, just didn't find the back of the twine. But we did some other things that we needed to do to get the victory, so it showed a certain level of maturity by our young team, which was what we would hope for coming in the second half.
QUESTION #2: Mike, I know it's been awhile since you guys played a league opponent, but given how tightly some teams are bunched, in terms of points, down towards the bottom, is this an opportunity, if you're playing well, to start making up a little bit of ground that way?
EAVES: You can look at that and certainly think so, because the next four games are against guys that are right there with us. It looks as an opportunity to gain some points. We've set a goal in the second half to get home ice. In order to do that, we have to win these games in order to give ourselves a legitimate chance. So these are really two big weekends coming up for us in order to accomplish the second-half goal that we set as a team.
QUESTION #3: Sean Little was given the opportunity to play and did some good things for you. How's he progressing in his brief career here so far?
EAVES: Well, this Friday/Saturday was exactly what we've seen. Friday, quite honestly, he had too many blue line turnovers, wasn't consistent enough. Saturday he played very well. It kind of epitomizes our whole team in terms of its maturation process. Once he figures out what he needs to do to be consistent, he could become a pretty good player at this level for us. So we'll keep pushing him in that direction.
After a while, when you figure out, 'well, the coach is playing me more, why is he playing me more now?' Well, because you're doing the things you need to do, then perhaps he'll grasp that concept and do it more often.
QUESTION #4: Your special teams as a whole, power play, penalty kill, you like where you're at heading into the second half now?
EAVES: Yes. I haven't done it yet, but I would like to kind of take our last dozen games and see where our penalty killing is. I think we would be pleasantly surprised to find out what that, it seems to me that would be right around 85% or so, and our power play has been pretty consistent, once we got a couple games under our belt and got used to each other. So those two factors, because a third of the game is specialty teams now and we have to be good in those areas, and we're playing much better than we did earlier in the year.
QUESTION #5: Mike, I know it's hard to explain how maybe you have success in one place or you don't have success in another place or against one team or whatever, but what about Mankato is tricky for any team to go in? What makes that kind of a unique, challenging environment?
EAVES: Two things come to mind. The first is that the team itself. They play very hard. Watching video, their strength is how hard they play. If you're not prepared to play hard, then you're not going to win, plain and simple. They're not going to toe pull or skill you to death, but they're going to play hard, so you have to be ready for it. The second thing that's unique about that building is it's kind of a junior hockey atmosphere rather than a college hockey atmosphere. The fans are rowdy, and they tend to, I believe they sell alcohol in that building, and so they take it to another level. It reminds me of junior hockey and the atmosphere that you find there. So we have to be ready to battle both of those things if we're going to be successful.
QUESTION #6: Mike, you mentioned being better on special teams than you were earlier in the year. I'm just curious, what factors would you list that have gone into that?
EAVES: Well, on the power play side of it, it was just we had to replace a couple of people and had to get used to each other there. On the penalty killing, we only had two guys coming back that killed penalties from last year's team, so it was almost starting from scratch, and there was a lot of big holes there to fill. Plus we got two freshmen goaltenders, and they oftentimes have to be your best penalty killers, so they were getting inundated by throwing them in the deep end of the pool as well.
So we've got some experience. Coach Bill has had a chance to work with these young guys. As a unit, we're all better on the same page.
QUESTION #7: I think some people might have wondered how Justin Schultz would do without a Jake Gardiner alongside of him. It doesn't seem like there's been any drop-off in his numbers, where that might have been understandable. Are you surprised at all by that?
EAVES: No, because Justin is more the quarterback, on the power play for instance, than Jake. Jake was a winger and a shooter and complemented Justin, but, the quarterback is the guy who's got the puck in his hand all the time. He's making the reads, and so everything fires off of him. So the production he's had is because he's still in that position, and he's still surrounded by some pretty good people who are able to pick off what he does and build on it.
QUESTION #8: I don't know if pressure would be the right world as far as Justin deciding to come back, but it just looks like he's having fun. Isn't that the best thing about, he's playing a sport, for pete's sake?
EAVES: The interesting thing about Justin, at the end of last year, there was no question that he was coming back. He told Anaheim that then. They came back several times. He said, look, I'm not coming. He likes it here. He enjoys it. He goes to the basketball games, the volleyball games, the football games. He likes the atmosphere here. It's interesting for a lot of guys that want to rush off to pro hockey, yes, you get paid for doing something that you like, but you never get these years back in college, and it's a business.
At the pro level, there's winning and misery, and if you're not winning, you know what you're living in. And he's just enjoying his time here. He's getting that third year under his belt to help his percentages of graduating. So there are a lot of pluses, and there was never any question in his mind. But the one thing, in talking to Justin, is that he just enjoys the atmosphere and everything that goes on at this campus.
QUESTION #9: Mark Zengerle moved two games closer to mark that you hold for consecutive games with a point. Is that something you've talked to . . . plan to mentioning to at all, even in a friendly, joking sort of manner? How impressive, especially in this day and age, when it's maybe not as offensive as back when you played?
EAVES: Well, it's interesting about Mark. In junior hockey, I remember Coach Osiecki going up to watch him play, and he came back with the comment, he just gets points. You know, you may not notice, but at the end of the game, he's on the score sheet. And he's been that kind of player his whole life, I think. And, you know, we haven't talked about it. I don't plan on talking about it. Records are made to be broken. If it happens, tremendous, because he's helping our team, and that's why records are kept so they can be broke. So I, we're just going to keep moving the way we have.
QUESTION #10: Just a quick question for you. Every day you look outside your window and La Bahn Arena is progressing and going up and you can see more and more progress. Just talk a little about the excitement, looking out and thinking next year we're going to go over there for practice instead of other places you might have to go.
EAVES: Yeah. Well, we've seen the whole process go up, and it's been quite a process to just sit there like little boys in a sandbox watching this thing and all the cranes and the trucks. And we find ourselves being mesmerized by it. It's been an evolution. And the thing that most people can't see is underneath the ground, there's all that infrastructure with the two new locker rooms and the athletic training facility that's underneath there. Just exciting, probably the most excited guy on our staff is Nate LaPoint, our equipment manager, because he goes back and forth between the coliseum all week long. And the fact that we won't have to do that, will have a permanent home.
The administrators are happy because they don't have to worry about our kids getting on their mopeds in winter and heading out to the coliseum. So there are a lot of excited people, but seeing that whole process has really been amazing. We've had the luxury of being able to use it to show some of our recruits, on a hard hat tour, the space that we have, and it's going to take the recruiting to another level.