March 18, 2014
MADISON, Wis. -- Head coach Mike Eaves addressed the media on Monday as Wisconsin heads to the inaugural Big Ten tournament with a semifinal game on Friday at 2 p.m. The second-seeded Badgers (22-10-2, 13-6-1) will meet the winner of Thursday's quarterfinal game between third-seeded Michigan (18-12-4, 10-8-2-1 Big Ten) and sixth-seeded Penn State (7-25-2, 3-16-1-0 Big Ten). The tournament takes place at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. All games will air on the Big Ten Network.
A complete transcript of Eaves' comments is below.
Mike, how do you go about preparing for two teams, only one of which you'll play?
COACH EAVES: We'll split that up amongst the staff and get our vitals out on playing them and prepare as if we were just playing -- each coach will prepare like we're playing that team. So we'll have both ready to go.
Q. Jake McCabe was at practice. Obviously, he's good to go in your mind?
COACH EAVES: Today was a positive day. We didn't do any hitting or grinding today, but he did all the skill stuff. He shot the puck. He conditioned at the end. So it was a very positive step.
Q. When the program was in the WCHA, the Final Five at the Xcel had a great atmosphere and was almost, you mentioned before, like an NCAA Tournament, like a Frozen Four. What do you expect the atmosphere to be like for the first Big Ten Tournament?
COACH EAVES: We asked that question this morning to our staff if they've heard anything about the number of tickets that have been sold. We couldn't find it, or I've not heard anything about that. So I'm not sure what to expect.
Obviously, with Minnesota being there, that will help. We travel well. That will help. But I don't know how the other schools travel yet. I think it's something we'll find out together.
Q. Could you offer your perspective on how you think the Big Ten season went for you guys. Just overall, since it's so new compared to the WCHA.
COACH EAVES: The perspective, I think, that we have as a staff, it was very positive. I take a look at the response of our fans coming out -- we were sold out again on Saturday night. I wish we had more Big Ten games on Saturday nights.
The one series that probably would have been sold out for two games, had it been a Friday, Saturday, would have been Minnesota, except it was a Thursday, Friday.
I think it was very positive. We felt all along that the average student, who might not know hockey but knows Big Ten schools, would come. I think that was part of what we saw. So from our standpoint, we think very positive.
Q. What about the competition among the teams that you don't know as well, Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State? How about that as far as the level of competition?
COACH EAVES: Well, I know they beat us so the level must be somewhat pretty competitive. There was a dogfight every night. So I don't see any drop-off in terms of if that's what you're looking at. I thought it was really competitive. The fact that we had a balanced schedule was positive and moving forward, I think the rivalries will just continue to increase.
Q. Mike, if you look deeply at the PairWise, it almost looks like you're pretty assured you'll be in the tournament. Do you have to fight that notion with your players to say, Hey, there's still a No. 1 seed to get - there's still seeding here that's part of this tournament. Is that even part of the conversational process this week?
COACH EAVES: I'd have to ask the assistant coaches, if they hear more than I do from the players, but the only focus I've heard from our captains or anything is about this weekend. So I think that's a good thing because that's something that we can control is this very weekend.
The maximum amount of games we can play is six right now, and that includes the intermediate goals of winning our playoffs, winning the regionals, and then going to the Frozen Four and winning that. If we happen to lose the first of the six, we still have a chance to get to the top.
So these are things that we as a staff have sat back and looked at, but the gist of the conversation with our leadership core has been the fact that it's about this weekend.
Q. Just wondering, if you got as big of a kick out of Gavin Hartzog scoring on Saturday as his teammates and, it seemed like, Gary Shuchuk did?
COACH EAVES: We had some feedback video before we practiced today, and that was part of the feedback, was him scoring. The reaction of the people on the bench was pretty good.
It's interesting, his first college shift as a defenseman, and he went to throw the puck off the glass and hit about four people in the stands with the puck. We watched that today and the boys were roaring. It was really fun in the locker room afterward because he was given the game puck.
The guys gave him an extended round of applause, like they were legitimately happy for all the work that Hartsy has done and he got to play. Not only play, but be a contributing factor in a big win for us.
Q. It's been a long season. Does the postseason rejuvenate a team?
COACH EAVES: Without a doubt. When the weather warms up, kind of, and the season is done, there's a little extra jump in your step. The purpose becomes more visible on a day-to-day basis. There's a finite point now that we're getting to and that really ramps up your emotional energy.
Q. Coaches always say you want to be playing your best hockey or your best whatever at this time of year. How do you feel about coming off of this weekend, where your team is at heading into the postseason and the way they're playing overall?
COACH EAVES: I think we're at a good spot. It was an interesting weekend. There were some funky goals scored on us. Saturday night, we go to clear a puck, and it hit Michael Mersch in the head, jumped over our goalie, his arm, and hit the cross bar and dropped in. That was kind of weird. I did notice it was a full moon again this weekend. So those kinds of things play into it.
No, I like where we're at. I like our focus. When you watch the video, our attention to detail is right where it needs to be. So I think we're at a good place right now.