March 5, 2013
• Watch Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves spoke Monday after the team earned a road series sweep against then-No. 13/15 Nebraska Omaha last weekend, claiming 4-3 and 6-2 victories. The Badgers return home to Madison this weekend for a series against WCHA-leading St. Cloud State, playing at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the longtime home to Wisconsin hockey before the Kohl Center. WCHA title hopes still remain for Wisconsin with a series sweep and help from others, while the Badgers can also lock up home ice with three points on the weekend.
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above and a complete transcript of Eaves' remarks can be found below.
Question: Mike, have you sat down and figured out every permutation of where you could end up after this weekend?
Eaves: Not really. I think that, as a coach, I think your focus is on what your task is at hand. If we take care of business and go out and win, then that's the most important thing we can project to our kids and to ourselves right now. Control what we can.
Question: Mike, do you recall being involved in a weekend that involved this dramatic of extremes where you could win the championship or you could start the playoffs on the road?
Eaves: No. I think several years ago, when Shane Connelly was our goaltender, we came back home to play Denver and we were in third place. We had a legitimate chance to do something that weekend, but nothing like this. This is probably -- again, it speaks to the parity in the league and speaks to the parity in college hockey. Any given night a team can win. Now we're down to one through seven is up for grabs here.
Question: How big of a weekend was this for you to go on the road to Omaha against a pretty good team and hang up six goals on Saturday night?
Eaves: It was an unusual feeling coaching a five-goal lead going into a third period. We haven't been there very often during the year, not quite sure what to say to the kids. It was different. A great reward for the kids as we go down the stretch. The fact that we caught on fire a little bit offensively, this is a good time of the year to have that happen. The kids played with great energy Friday night. They carried that over into Saturday and were rewarded by putting the puck in the net more times than we're used to seeing. It's a good time of year to have that happen. Our task is to carry that momentum this weekend.
Question: Mike, knowing what happened a week ago today and the circumstances from that, do you think this team has turned a corner? Do you think one weekend has told you it's turned a corner in terms of emotion and production and those types of things?
Eaves: I don't think one weekend does, Andy. I think what this weekend tells us is we talked about Saturday night, how resilient this group is, that the beginning of the year could have been a real good thing for us now because we're in the midst of a real dogfight here. And living through those tough times and surviving and actually flourishing and coming out of that with great lessons we're applying now. That's probably the biggest thing is how resilient this group is.
Question: Mike, given how well you guys have played on the road versus home, do you like the fact that, even though you're at home, you're going to the old building? What do you talk to your kids about that this week? Do you sell that, or how do you approach that?
Eaves: It's almost a neutral site. We know it, but we don't. We practiced for so many years. Now we're going back out there. We're going to be in our own locker room. Guys know how to get out there. The fact is it's a little different. I think just the way our guys have handled being on the road, it's not a big hurdle to get over at all. We've done pretty well on the road. We know how to play on the road. We're playing on a smaller sheet, which we have done on the road most times. So it's just pretty much business as usual. Let's go out there. Let's get settled in practice for a week and take care of business.
Question: Mike, you have a large junior class -- I think it's ten. How have you seen these guys from where you were at the beginning of the year until now develop, not just in their play but in their leadership qualities too? Because these are going to be your leaders next year.
Eaves: Well, not getting too far ahead of ourselves to talk about next year, but just this year their growth has been measurable. I think it's tough to measure something like this when you talk about leadership in terms of quantifying it. A guy like Tyler Barnes here a couple of weeks ago, he slips and misses a team meeting and he has to pay the price by sitting out a game. He responds the last three or four games in unbelievable fashion. Did it finally sink in for him? These are things that we as coaches and parents, we're in the business of delayed gratification. A lot of times we don't see our work until after they leave here or not until their senior year. Perhaps this was a turning point for a guy like Tyler and Michael Mersch or Mark Zengerle. Mark breaks his finger, not having the type of year we expected, and yet he's waded through it here. He's plodded on. We've asked him to do several things to get himself going, and he catches fire last weekend. Is that going to be something that turns into something special down the road? Time will tell us.
Question: Do you expect Derek Lee to play this weekend?
Eaves: I do not. I'll be really forward and up front. In talking with Andy, we're hoping to get real good progress this week, but I doubt he'll be in the lineup.
Question: Back in the summer, you had Mark, Tyler, and Nic penciled in as a line together. It seems the last couple of weeks would seem to indicate they're finding their stride. Is that a fair way of looking at it?
Eaves: Very much so. What we're seeing now is what we thought we would have seen right away, but circumstances and everything else -- guys coming back from suspension, injury, finding that chemistry you thought would be there right away. But, yes, what's happening now is what we hoped for.
Question: Mike, despite much of the success you guys have had with this program, the one thing you haven't done is win a WCHA title, whether it's regular season or postseason. Is that surprising to you? What would it mean, especially given the fact it's the last year of the WCHA as we know it?
Eaves: Coach Johnson used to say that winning a WCHA regular season title is the hardest thing to do because it was done over time. You had to be good for a long time. You had to build a resume that said you were a good team over a whole season. It would be great to do it because it's such a tall mountain to climb. We have a shot. We need to do our part. Other things need to happen. But we're there battling for it.
Question: Nic Kerdiles' season has been interesting, to say the least. Has there been -- has his progress been typical of a freshman, or have you seen something beyond that that would suggest that he's maybe on a different course.
Eaves: I think it's been atypical because I don't really think Nic felt like a true freshman until after Christmas. With the suspension, I think the whole World Junior Team wondering what was happening there, the weight of worrying about that and being concerned about that as an 18-year-old. I think after Christmas, there was a joy that came back into his life. I don't have to worry about this. I'm a freshman. First one on, last one off, having fun with my teammates. I think that's the element of life that's helped him be successful here. He's just being 18 years old now and doesn't have to worry about all the peripheral things.
Question: I know you had a couple of 20-goal scorers back in 2010, but for Michael Mersch to reach 20 goals in this day and age of hockey, how significant is that?
Eaves: It's significant. It's difficult to score, especially on our team. Michael's done a good job of that for us. He started out really hot. He had a couple of dips in terms of production, but was always working hard. The weekend that he had this week and the fact that he's part of that group that caught fire a little bit here, hoping that continues.
Question: St. Cloud will be the sixth top ten offense you've faced this year. To what degree has playing the other five gotten you to feel comfortable this weekend?
Eaves: I think the guys play real well without the puck. I think they understand the concept, if we play well as a fist without the puck, we can at least limit how successful other teams are going to be. I think they have a good feeling about that, and the type of hockey we've played all year, the number of games we've been in late is what we have to play now. I think we're pretty comfortable in those shoes.
Question: Were you kind of openly rooting that St. Cloud would have taken care of business last weekend and had it clinched coming here, the impact it would have on this series. What stands out to you with St. Cloud?
Eaves: They're a veteran team. They've got a guy that's turning 26 this spring. They're an older team. They're a veteran team. They've got good goaltending. They've got size. They have a lot of things going for themselves right now. They are where they are for good reasons. But, again, they have to come in -- The one thing that keeps popping up in athletics is no matter what the rankings say where teams are, you have to play. It's the best reality show out there. We have to play the No. 1 team in our conference, and we have a chance to do some things here. We're looking forward to that opportunity.