Oct. 9, 2013
• Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Eaves met with the media Monday at Camp Randall Stadium to preview the Badgers' season-opening series versus Northern Michigan this Friday and Saturday.
Wisconsin enters the 2013-14 campaign as the No. 3-ranked team in the country and the preseason favorite to capture in inaugural Big Ten hockey title. The Badgers head into this season with an experience group, with 16 juniors and seniors returning, something that they are hoping will pay dividends.
Video of Eaves' media session can be found above, and a complete transcript of his remarks is below.
QUESTION: Coach, as good as you guys have been in recent years, the opener has been a bit of a struggle. Any reason why? Anything you've noticed from preparations leading into the first game of the season?
EAVES: Well, that's kind of a loaded question. We have three days of practice before we go on to games. Everybody's in the same boat. Actually, talking to Coach Shuchuk, he looked at our game film last year playing Northern Michigan and we actually played quite well. We didn't find a way to win games because we didn't score enough. We found a couple ways to lose.
It's kind of a mixed bag because of the fact we're just getting on the ice. We've been part-time for a couple of weeks. We've had a red-white scrimmage. Now we're going to have three days of practice, a walk-through and then we play.
There's no direct answer to that, just because of the fact that you have very little time to prepare. Someday we hope, as a staff, that this gets changed.
You know, I think one of the benefits of being in the Big Ten is the fact we'll have a louder voice in the NCAA, and perhaps like basketball, we'll get 30 days of practice before we have our first exhibition game. That would be really nice. I think for the health and welfare of our athletes it would be a good thing too.
QUESTION: This season do you have a tremendous advantage considering how veteran laden your group is?
EAVES: Having that always helps, there's no question. When you go into a season like this, any season, the older you are, those kids coming in have more reps. So you kind of hope that that will take over.
QUESTION: Mike, do you recall a team that you've had previously that is as strong up the middle as this year’s team appears to be?
EAVES: It would rank up there with the teams that have had success. It would rank up there with those teams, like the 2006 team and the 2010 team.
There's no secret, when you're going to be a successful hockey team, that's one of the elements is being strong up the middle.
QUESTION: Mike, do you have any concerns or issues with your personnel at this point? What might be missing from this team? The second part of that question is how much can what you guys went through early last year -- the suspension, the injuries, the coaching change -- how much can that benefit this team with whatever it might face at some point this season?
EAVES: First part of the question is there's still a lot of unknowns about chemistry. We moved Mark Zengerle up with Morgan Zulinick and Tyler Barnes and we have Nic Kerdiles in the middle. It looks pretty good in practice, but you're still not sure. You're still not sure of that fact.
So there are some things, as you said, there's many things to be laid out here as we move through.
The second point, I firmly believe, as our coaching staff does, that what we went through last year will give us a team maturity and I think going through those things sets that up for us.
So we talked about it at the red-white scrimmages. We move forward this year. Because of our team maturity, we should be able to handle a bad call here, an injury, bad travel, bad ice because we've lived through a lot more. We know that we can live through it if we make the right choices.
So I think that's something that we can pull on this year, no doubt.
QUESTION: As you get set to start the season in the Big Ten Conference, do you sense any difference? Is there any difference for you in the beginning of this season versus any other? And do you sense that with your players at all that you're about to go on an inaugural season?
EAVES: It’s very similar to being a freshman in college or a rookie in the National Hockey League because it's all new, and when it's all new, it's exciting. We haven't been in a lot of these buildings in a long time.
Ohio State, I was there with the national program team, so it has been a long time. There's newness and there's an excitement that comes with that, with all the new teams and buildings that we're going to go into. So that's exciting.
QUESTION: Mike, how do you see Grant Besse and Jedd Soleway fitting into your offense?
EAVES: That’s unknown. Somewhere they have to fit, though. Those two young men are definitely unknown. They do some good things. How quickly they can adapt to the pace, the speed and the strength of college hockey will determine where they fit in.
It's usually after Christmas that these young freshmen get their feet wet. They go away for Christmas break, they come back and then you find out what they can do.
So those two young men there, like the rest of the freshmen, they're unknowns right now. Hopefully, as we go through the first part and go in the second, we'll figure out where their role is.
QUESTION: Mike, I'm sure you would have liked to have Morgan Zulinick in the lineup last year, but how much do you think he may benefit from the redshirt year that he took a year ago?
EAVES: If you quantify it from a physical standpoint he's in better shape. He's stronger and he has firsthand knowledge. He hasn't played in a while, though, so he's got to get his game up to pace again.
On Saturday in the scrimmage, I thought he was a lot more effective in the second period than in the first. So I think it's going to take some time.
The redshirt year from a physical standpoint, it helps him grow, so he's bigger and stronger. Certainly, from a mental standpoint, he's a lot older too.
QUESTION: Along the lines of last year's adversity, does having a quality October and November become part of the battle cry so you don’t have to force yourself to have the finish that you did last year?
EAVES: No question, and the young men in the locker room all know that. They're very much aware of it. There were storms we had last year, and who's to say we're not going to have storms here now, but we're certainly going to be on our toes ready to get out of the port on a good note and get off to a good start.
QUESTION: Mike, I imagine there's a certain level of excitement among coaches and players everywhere at the start of the season. For a coach, some years you know your chances of victory are better because of the personnel you have with the experience. What's your excitement level this year, when you look at your personnel, you look at the experience, you know what they've been through and they got a taste of the NCAA last year?
EAVES: The question that you raise takes this coach to an interesting spot. I think experience speaks when I answer that you can have a really good team, you can have good coaching, good goaltending, and there's still a factor that's not in your control -- the unknown. It could be staying healthy.
I'll put it in these terms for you. When we won in 2006, the puck hit the post and went out. In 2010 when we were there, we were down 1-0 and Michael Davies goes in on a clear-cut breakaway and goes to shoot and the puck jumps eight inches off the ice. If he scores on that it's 1-1 going into the third. So there's an element. I mean, there's no guarantees you're going to win.
What we try to talk to our team about is that there are two things that give us a chance of being a champion. We have some of those built in because of our experience, talent and depth, but we still have to be razor sharp, be on our toes and meet the challenges that come forward.
One of the great things about a Pat Riley book was, if you're going to win a championship, you have to have the ability to adapt at key moments. In championship moments, there's going to be something that happens that's unexpected and whether or not we can adapt to that will oftentimes determine if we're going to be a champion.
QUESTION: Mike, were there any revelations to you from the scrimmage?
EAVES: In terms of hockey, in terms of individual play, not really. It's really tough to judge young men when they're going every other shift. The one team had two lines, and they're going out there. So it's tough to play because you're very tired. You just have to be smart and do the things you know you can do if you're a little more rested.
The atmosphere was good. I think the practice that we did in the beginning of the ice session was really good for the kids because it got their bust legs out. They got to handle the puck and work on some penalty killing and power play. They got to play in front of people and get a taste of, oh, yeah, we've got to battle and how tired you can get.
The one thing that you recognize, when you're out of this game for a little while, is you have to be in great condition to play this game. They kind of realized that on Saturday as well.
No great revelations from the original standpoint, but it was good to get that under our belt and we'll be better this weekend because of it.
QUESTION: Mike, is there a simple explanation for why your power play didn't have a good conversion rate a year ago?
EAVES: There were games, if you go back and look, we did everything with the puck, but the power play percentage is based on the puck in the net. So there were times that you could say we did all the right things but put the puck in the net. So that's one of the reasons.
Maybe having Nic [Kerdiles] right now from the get go and having a unit that will be in place right from day one, that might be something that helps us. But the guys are excited. They've had some chances on the ice to work out a little bit. I think they're excited to see what they can do during the course of games.
QUESTION: Do you almost have to find yourself psychologically tapping the brakes with your kids? You know what the expectations are with this team, and you're already talking about the unknown and how we respond, almost as if you're saying let's not get too far ahead of ourselves because it's a long road.
EAVES: Absolutely. We have an opportunity to meet with our captains and we talk about the issues around the table and they've actually brought that up. They have a good finger on the pulse of this team and that's a real advantage for a coaching staff.
I mean, if you talk to any coach they will say that players win games. They have to make decisions. You can't get in their heads when they're on the ice 80 feet away from you. So they have a good pulse on those things. They're a mature group. Again, there's that term maturity. I think that's going to help us and give us a chance to do the things we want to do.