Jan. 28, 2013
• Watch Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves made his weekly news conference appearance on Monday at the Kohl Center. A full transcript follows.
MODERATOR: The men's hockey team takes its 10-game WCHA unbeaten streak on the road this weekend to face North Dakota. Badgers and UND are currently tied for fourth place in the WCHA, four points out of first. Friday night's game starts at 7:30 while Saturday's game is a 7:00 p.m. start. Both games will be televised by Fox College Sports.
Q. Mike, what are the chances of Derek Lee playing this weekend?
COACH EAVES: Well, talked to Mr. Hrodey this morning, and he passed his cognitive test. That's step one. He still has some residual headaches, so those have to dissipate before he can get on the bike.
At this point, we're hopeful. The fact that he passed the cognitive was a good step. He won't go on the ice today, and tomorrow we'll come back and see where he's at.
Q. Have you had any further discussion with WCHA officials about that play, and if so, what was the outcome?
COACH EAVES: We did. We spoke with Mr. Shepherd this morning, and we talked about it. I sent him some clips from our camera angles, and he was going to take a look at them and get back to me and give me his viewpoint.
Q. Staying on the injury front, Eddie Wittchow, is he going to start practicing?
COACH EAVES: Yes, he'll be full bore this week.
Q. And Ryan Little, good to go?
COACH EAVES: Good to go, yes.
COACH EAVES: And I'm fine, in case you're wondering.
Q. Mike, was Saturday's game just a game of finding a way to get it done and finishing? Something you guys have really done actually pretty well here the last couple of months.
COACH EAVES: Yeah, it's -- talking to the guys after the game and even on Sunday where we had Skate With the Badgers, you know, you wish you could rubber stamp that game on Friday that we had, the tempo, the shots, and everything. That's the one thing about athletics. You wonder why can't you play that same way? What does it take?
We talked about it, trying to find a way to fight human nature. But the good thing was we found a way to answer the riddle and get it done. We were pretty solid, watching the third period yesterday, and really happy for Mr. Peterson, the fact that he closed the door in the third period, and that's something that was on his mind.
He was disappointed in his earlier start up in Anchorage, where he let in a goal that he would like to have back. He was pumped that he was there for his teammates in the third period and got the job done.
Q. Mike, you knew that when Justin Schultz left after last year, you were taking a pretty big time offensive guy off your blue line, but given that, did you expect to have -- to see such a big dropoff in production from your defensemen this year? I know it could be tied to a lot of things, the forwards and the challenges up there, but did you expect such a dropoff?
COACH EAVES: No, probably not. I think, in looking back, it seemed the success that Justin's had at the American League level first and now at the National Hockey League level, you just come to realize how special he was here. That's been probably the biggest revelation in looking at Justin and his ability, how special he was.
I mean, we went back. We created a -- young Zach Remiker, our video coordinator, created a video of the power play and the goals that Schultz was involved in. His goals are plain and simple the ability to shoot the puck from the point. Have a smart shot, an accurate shot, and a shot with zip on it, how special that shot really was. It's like finding a guy who can consistently hit a three-pointer. He was just that deadly from above the top of the circle.
He's very special, and I think that's been the biggest revelation is how good he was with his shot.
Q. Where have things been missing, though, with this group? Did you expect more from this group, or were we just spoiled here for the last three or four years with that run of defensemen who have come through here who are now in the NHL?
COACH EAVES: I think a little bit of that, a little bit of spoiled. I think this group has not -- are still looking for who's the go-to guy on that power play. It was Justin. He was clearly our Russell Wilson. He was the guy that quarterbacked, that got it done, pulled the trigger, ran it.
I think we tried to -- well, we're still trying to find what that combination of people and where's the best place for them.
Q. We're going back in time here a little bit. A lot was made about the start your team got off to. Not having Justin Schultz like you had for the previous three years, was that part of the equation too, just realizing he's not out here anymore and we've got to find people to fill his spot?
COACH EAVES: No question. And I think, once again, everybody kind of realized, as time went on, what a special player he was.
Q. There are going to be discussions this week as you go to Grand Forks, about your future of playing North Dakota. You have a tentative four-year agreement to play the Fighting Sioux. Getting them on your schedule was a priority, correct? Could you talk about what went into that and why it's a priority.
COACH EAVES: Pretty simple. A great rivalry, great history. Both programs wanted to do that and keep it going. It actually was a conversation that wasn't very long with Hakstol, their head coach, and we both reached out and both said let's get this done, and we were able to do so.
Q. Surprising to see Sean Little leading your Conga line yesterday at Skate With the Badgers?
COACH EAVES: Unfortunately, I just left the ice before that took place, but surprised, no. He's kind of -- when we had the team in '06 here, I think Ross Carlson was a little spice in the room, and I think Sean brings that. You need that levity. I'm pretty sure all the guys here will be at his wedding.
Q. Back to Derek Lee, he's had a pretty good senior season here, hasn't he?
COACH EAVES: Yeah, this has been fun to watch. I think that Derek is a very good hockey player, and as he has talked about for a while, he was an understudy to some other forwards, but now it's his time to shine, and he stepped up to the plate. It's been fun to really watch him play well, especially in his senior season, and to see him blossom a little bit.
We're sure hoping this little injury isn't very long because we need him in the lineup.
Q. Not to bring up a difficult time from your past, but regarding concussions, is it your experience it got harder with each one, got harder to come back, or did it vary from episode to episode?
COACH EAVES: Up until the last one, there was never ever a question that I was going to come back. On the last one, something snapped inside of me that said there's something really wrong here on a deep level.
The neurosurgeon says, you have no permanent damage, but because of your history, he said, I can't guarantee the next time you get dinged that something serious might happen. I knew, even before he told me that, that I was done. Something inside of me snapped.
You take a look at our son Patrick, who's battling that. First question I asked him, how is your heart? How is your spirit? He said, I'm fine, Dad. I have no doubt I'm coming back. I'm not coming back until I'm 100 percent, but that spirit was together inside of him, so he was fine.
I think that's the most important thing, when you look at something like this, is what you're feeling deep, deep inside.
Q. Can you explain the challenge of going to North Dakota, playing in that building in front of those fans, the team that you're facing, and kind of add to the fact that your team has been pretty good on the road here this year.
COACH EAVES: It's a great place to play, first of all. If I'm a college athlete or just an athlete in general, you're playing in front of 11,000 fans, and the rink is designed such they're right on top of you. They're a good team. There's a great rivalry.
These are the kind of weekends that are fun. I don't think it's -- the challenge is there, and to go in as a group of 22 young men and the coaching staff and support staff and try to get into their camp and steal some ponies and get out of town is a great challenge.
I think this week of practice will be fun because they'll be looking forward to getting there, and there's no -- it's easy to coach these weekends because kids will be all elevated in their emotions and their want and everything like that. We just have to fine tune that. Probably pull the reins in a little bit, get a good game plan together as what we need to exercise because it's a small rink, and go from there. But this will be a fun weekend.
Q. Another question about Sean Little. Your players talk universally about him being so well liked. Have you had -- is that unusual? I mean, everybody's got to kind of -- not everybody gets along, but it seems like he does, and I think there's -- it sounds like that's somewhat unusual. I'm curious if you've had players like that before who have been such a unanimous, unifying factor.
COACH EAVES: I think you're fortunate as a coach if you have that kind of factor in your locker room. You want that in your locker room. You need that in your locker room to bring your guys together. You talk to any college coach, you're going to have ups and downs all year. If you can somehow have someone who has that voice of levitation in the room to bring it together, you need that, and Sean is that for our team.
I'm not surprised. I'm happy that it's there for us because it's a long season. You need to have some of that as you go along.