Oct. 29, 2012
• Watch Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves spoke Monday after the team opened WCHA play on the road in a series against Minnesota Duluth. The Badgers skated to a win and a tie over the weekend, earning three points to open conference play.
Eaves also looked ahead as the Badgers prepare to open up the Kohl Center for their first home series of the 2012-13 season, hosting Colorado College, Nov. 2-3. Wisconsin will also honor "Badger" Bob Johnson and unveil the newly named "Bob Johnson Rink," as the ice sheet inside the Kohl Center is being named for one of the school's legendary coaches.
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, the first weekend you guys weren't able to sustain things all the way through for 60 minutes. Last weekend was just the opposite on both nights. You only got a tie in the second. What factors led into that reversal?
Eaves: I think the factors that led that to reversal, as you put it, is just another week of practice, of repetitions, of getting in better game shape. Saturday night really in particular was a fun game because it was such a hostile environment, and seeing our guys rise to the occasion, being down, and playing our best third period of the season to date, it was -- if you're a fan, you could tell how competitive it was out there -- the hits, the races, the pucks. It was a tough game. It almost felt like a win, I have to be honest with you. To be able to come back down two on the road and get a point out of there. As Paul pointed out, that's the last time we play them this season. So in a tiebreaker, we have a tiebreaker with them, and as history dictates in this league, that could be a big thing at the end of the year.
Question: Mike, knowing Bob Johnson as you did, what would he like best about your program?
Eaves: First thing that comes to mind is just the fact that we're a competitive group of people, and I think that Coach, as passionate as he was about the power play, he likes people that were competitive, and he understood that game -- the game and such that you've got to have the heart of a wrestler. I think he would appreciate the fact that we know that that's a key part of the game to come out and play hard. That's got to be your base, and if you do that, we give ourselves a chance to win. And after that, I think he'd go right to the power play. He'd appreciate how much time we spend on that because that was one of his passions.
Question: Mike, you've got a mix, obviously, of some freshmen and some veterans on this team. What did they learn from the weekend, in particular, the second night?
Eaves: I think just how high the competitive level can get when you're on the road and what's at stake and the pace. I talked to Morgan Zulinick this past week. We had a little sit-down talk and just encouraging him and talk about how he's got to grow as a person both on and off the ice. They'll help each other out. And the fact that he says sometimes he's on the ice, he said, the game feels like it's in fast forward, and that's a pretty common statement. And I shared the story of my first game as a pro. I felt the exact same thing, and I said, if every game's like this, I'm in trouble. And the fact that he played in the third period and had an assist on the tying goal, he can see the game hopefully starting to slow down for him. So that's how I'd answer that.
Question: Mike, after the game, Bill Butters said he thought that John Ramage played his best game of hockey in a long time. Is that what you've seen as well?
Eaves: No question. In an environment like that, you talk about John is the kind of guy you wanted in your foxhole. He led by example. He was physical. For our young defensemen, they saw that, hey, a simple hard play, a pass off the glass and out of the zone at the right time is the best play. He did a lot of that. But he was a leader that night from a physical standpoint and just on the bench and being in those type of environments. He was a real calming effect for us, and it was one of his best weekends in hockey as a Badger. Really fun to watch.
Question: Mike, when do you think you fully appreciated what Bob Johnson did here? When did his coaching, his teaching, all those types of things -- when do you think you truly appreciated what he was about?
Eaves: Probably not till I was playing hockey as a professional and having the chance to play for him for a second time. I think I wasn't cognizant of what he was doing here. I was just too young. But having gotten away from Madison and growing up, have a family of own, and play for different people then having a chance to play for him again in Calgary. I was at a more mature place in my life and was able to appreciate. And I think on top of that, after I retired and was able to be with him for the Canada Cup right before he passed, being able to just hang around -- it's real interesting that Martha Johnson is going to drop the puck this Friday. I've actually thought about this because the night that Bob went to the hospital, I stayed with Martha in the hotel room that night in Pittsburgh and slept on the couch. It was a tough time coming to grips with what was happening. I think it's just so apropos that she's dropping the puck because she was right by his side the whole time. Some great stories about we'd be walking through airports, and Bob's mind was just kind of one thought process. It was about hockey. Sometimes he's walking through the airports, and he would take 50 cents out of his pocket and flip them in the air and say, Martha, go get me a paper. I've got to keep walking here. She was right there by his side and would get the paper. I think it's apropos that she's here because she is definitely an offset of what Bob represented. I'm really happy that she accepted the role of dropping the puck on the ice surface at the Kohl Center.
Question: Is there a word or words or phrase or phrases to best describe Bob Johnson, in your opinion?
Eaves: There's a bunch of phrases. It's real interesting, I've had a chance -- knowing this week was coming up, the things I remember about Bob have been racing through my mind -- his passion, his love for the power play are duly noted, as we've talked about. But when I got to hang with him as a coach, a young coach, I thought a bit when he was -- before he got really deep into his career, he was a pretty good handyman. He used to fix things around the house all the time, and that was something I never thought I would hear about Coach. But in a different phase of his life, he was a family man. He used to do some drywalling and plumbing and electrical. And I said, you're kidding me? When I knew him, he was just all hockey, but I didn't know him at that phase of his life. It's real interesting, I think, in the phase of U.S. hockey, that the United States has lost two icons way too early in life. I'm talking about Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks and what their influence could have been far beyond -- when they died, they were young. And the influence they could have had on a lot of young coaches. But maybe in their passing, we highlight what they did in their shortened lives because of that. It's been interesting this week because of the upcoming naming of the rink. A lot of thoughts have walked down memory lane many times.
Question: Mike, could Bob coach right now and be relevant?
Eaves: Without a doubt because he was cutting edge all through his career. The question that reminds me of a story about Gordie Howe. They asked Gordie Howe about with all the new rules -- this is maybe ten years ago. With all the new rules, how many goals did he think he could get in the National Hockey League? And he said 26. And the reporter said is that all? And he said, well, I am 78 years old. So for Bob, I think, because of the type of mind he had, he would stay on type of things, and he would ask -- he was always asking questions to other coaches and players, what do you think? I think he'd be very relative in this day and age.
Question: Derek Lee's availability for this weekend?
Eaves: He's going to be at practice today. I guess the word I would use is hopeful at this point.
Question: Has a space opened up between your goaltenders? Are they still on the same level at this point in time?
Eaves: There's a little space now. It would be silly to say anything less of the young man who's got a 95 save percentage and a low goals against. There's a little space there now. He's separated that a bit, yes.
Question: What did you hear about Nic Kerdiles as far as his performance this past weekend? Did he come out of there healthy?
Eaves: Friday night I heard he played a lot, played well. Talked to him yesterday, he said he was fine, little rusty with the puck. On Saturday played St. Thomas, and unfortunately, Nic sustained a grade 1 MCL injury. Nothing serious, won't require any surgery, much like what Jefferson Dahl had last year. He'll be out for a couple of weeks. The plan is, a week before we go to Denver, he'll be on ice time with us and get ready to open his college career in Denver.
Question: Back to Coach Johnson for a second. What coaching characteristic trait do you think you most share with him?
Eaves: It's interesting when coaches are asked that kind of question. The reason I say that is I think that you take a little piece from every coach that you ever played for and you melt it into your own personality, and it comes out. I think with Coach I truly love coming to the rink. I'm probably -- I spend way too much time at the rink. Yesterday for the guys that didn't travel, we have ice time on Sundays. That's one of the best times of my week to get on the ice with them and create something that helps them become better hockey players. It's a seven day a week job, but that's what gets me juiced. I enjoy that part. I truly enjoy coming to the rink, like Coach Johnson, and because of that, I think we want to try to create that environment for our kids, that they enjoy it and look forward to coming to it. Now with our new facility, how could they not? They get to hang out there and play pong and come on the ice, and the ice is available when they want to go out by themselves or with coaches. I think that part, very similar to Coach.