Jan. 14, 2013
• Watch Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves spoke Monday after the team earned its third straight series sweep of the season and first ever in program history at Minnesota State. Having remained unbeaten in their last 10 games (7-0-3), the Badgers return home to the Kohl Center this weekend for a series with Miami (Ohio).
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above and a complete transcript of Eaves' remarks can be found below.
Question: Can you quantify yet how important those two wins were not only from a confidence standpoint but from the grand scheme of things, Mike?
Eaves: It is hard to quantify. I think, once the season is over, we can look back and really do a better job of that, but you'd have to say, for the confidence standpoint, that it has to be a good thing. It is a good thing. Just being around the guys today, as they're in the weight room, you get out of bed early in the morning and get over here and get going and they got a little jump in their step. They're looking forward to getting back on the ice and continue to play because good things are happening.
Question: Mike, can you recall some of the other -- I mean, what John Ramage did over the weekend probably defines clutch. There haven't been many, or did any moments like that come to mind for you during your time here of guys who have stepped up in such a big place to such a degree as John did over the weekend?
Eaves: What came to mind this morning was the fact that we needed someone to step up and make some big plays for us, and the fact that it's a senior doing it just -- the guys that leave early and go off and try to make their way pro, sometimes guys leave a little too early. Here's a guy that toyed with the idea of maybe stepping away and thinking, you know, I'm going to stay and have one more year and finish my degree, and he's probably playing as well as he ever has here for us. And that's the benefit of staying for your senior year, more times than not, is that you've had more experience, you're bigger and stronger, and it's an opportunity to really have you blossom in your confidence. And John is doing that right now for us. Funny story. [Coach Shuchuk] and I are on the bench. We talked about this. There's ten seconds left to go, and John ends up scoring. There was no elation. There was no pounding each other on the back and jumping up and down. We kind of looked at each other, can you believe this? John Ramage two nights in a row. But when you're trying to get turned around and trying to get things going in the right direction, you need somebody to step up, and John stepped up in a manner of scoring two goals in overtime to win. But other guys stepped up this weekend too. Jefferson Dahl's line was as good as any line on the ice this weekend -- scoring big goals, killing penalties. They, looking back on that weekend, they were as good as anybody. And Lee's line played well, the goaltending. We had a lot of people -- John gets the accolades because of the fact he got the goals in overtime, but we had a lot of people step up.
Question: You were saying before Saturday's game, he's just playing with more confidence not only as a defenseman but with the puck too. Could you explain that.
Eaves: He's not panicking with the puck. At times when he has a little bit more time and space and at times where he needs to get the puck out of the zone, he's making the right decisions. That's just flat out experience. That's what you think a senior would have and you would expect him to play to that. John's still going to make mistakes, as all athletes do, but he's making really good decisions based on his experience and his skill set.
Question: I guess it's probably one thing for an experienced coach such as yourself to not at least publicly panic or lose faith in a team when you're struggling with what's going on, it's another for young players who maybe haven't experienced as much. Why didn't you lose faith or confidence in this team, and why do you think they didn't when going through those struggles early on?
Eaves: Life experience as a coach just has told us there's no need to panic. We believe in the things we're doing. We believe in the abilities of these kids who just got off to a bad start with some storms that happened. Been there, done that. We've been there in other storms, and I think the coaching staff led by example. We stuck to our guns. We tried to keep the guys focused on what we needed to do, and we said we were just biking into the wind. And, in fact, we were. Now the wind's at our back a little bit, and we're biking with the wind. So we're going to try to keep that going for as long as we can. I just think it's flat out experience. Been there, experienced that, learned lessons, and we applied those lessons in those tough times that we had.
Question: Mike, at what point do the numbers tell you that you have to do something drastic with your power play?
Eaves: It's real interesting that whenever you -- you're going to look at numbers, and we look at numbers, and you're going to say, wow, they've got to change something. That looks terrible. Those numbers aren't right. The thing that we've been concerned with as a staff is are we getting scoring chances? Are we breaking into the zone? Let's break the power play down into segments. Getting into the zone, getting a scoring chance, scoring goals. Obviously, the last third is not there. If we're not doing the other thirds, then we'll make drastic changes, but we're not going to make drastic changes. We're going to tweak, and we're going to do that, but, no, not drastic changes because 2 out of the 3 areas are good.
Question: Your penalty kill has been really good during this stretch. Are you doing anything different, or is it just the guys comfortable with what they're doing? You've got a pretty good rotation of forwards and defensemen that probably have some experience in the past too.
Eaves: It's a combination of things, I think. Experience, having more repetitions at it, and I think our guys are executing better. There's all kinds of areas in the penalty killing too. Starts with the face-off in your own zone. If you can win a face-off in your own zone and ice the puck, you've saved yourself between 20 and 30 seconds, and it's an area that Shuey has been focusing on with our guys, especially our center ice men, to win that face-off and get it down. I think the second area is our fore-check, in trying to force the team to dump the puck into our zone so it becomes a 50-50 puck, and then trying to win that battle and ice the puck. I think, thirdly, it is our guys understanding what the structure of our opponent's power play is, and we have a plan in executing that, and then there's moments of truth when you kill penalties that you have an opportunity to get the puck down 200 feet. Can you make those plays and get it down? So those four quarter areas of the whole penalty killing, I think we're doing a better job with all the way around.
Question: Where's your hope in getting Morgan Zulinick back? Weeks? Months? When is there a possibility of getting him back?
Eaves: I think he's still out a couple weeks yet. This is an unusual type of injury. We thought it would be better than this. So our medical staff is keeping a real close eye on it to make sure we're doing the right thing for at least a couple weeks yet. If things go well.
Question: Since Mark Zengerle came back, is he still trying to get back up to speed in a lot of things? He didn't seem like he was all there this past week. Maybe that may not be your impression, but it seemed like there were moments where you didn't notice him very much. Is he and his linemates still trying to get things squared away, or do you see something different?
Eaves: I think Friday night was one of Mark's better games in terms of I liked what he did when he -- with his feet. He was moving. He had more energy because his feet were moving. He was going and getting the puck. He did a good job over the puck in terms of protecting it. Most people are going to take at [Mark Zengerle] and the first thing they look at, okay, where was he on the score sheet? He only had one assist over the weekend, but he did a lot of good things. For that whole unit, that whole unit, the dam hasn't broken yet, and I think that's to come.
Question: First time Miami's come here. It's not a coup or anything like that, but this is a really good opponent that's coming in here on a nonconference series, and you seem to have very similar strengths in terms of team defense, special teams, in terms of penalty kill. What impresses you most about that club?
Eaves: I was able to watch some video this past weekend about them already, just in preparation, and your point is correct. When you watch them play, they play with pace. They're physical when they need to be physical. They have speed and skill. They try to take away time and space like good teams do. So a lot of the components of being a good team they have, and they're ranked because of those. So it's the timing is good. We couldn't ask for a better schedule right now in terms of we're playing better. We're trying to earn some respect and climb ladders here and getting back in the RPI, and we have that opportunity this weekend if we can come in our home and take care of business.