Dec. 3, 2012
• Watch Eaves News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves spoke Monday after the team recently earned three points in a road series against WCHA-leading, No. 5 Denver. The Badgers return home for a series against Michigan Tech this weekend, Dec. 7-8.
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, could you update us on Mark Zengerle and Morgan Zulinick. Do you expect either or both to play this weekend?
Eaves: Mark is closer to playing this weekend. We'll put him in regular gear today and see what he can handle. He joined us on the road trip. I think the mindset was to be around the team and get him ready. He had two workouts a day. So physically, he wants to get back in the lineup because he doesn't want to do those anymore.
And Zully is -- Zully kind of took a step backwards with his thigh injury. They shut him down this week, they meaning the trainers. So we'll see how he is today and what they want to do with him.
Question: Could you explain the jubilation or the feeling in the locker room after being able to get that win on Saturday night because it had been quite a while.
Eaves: Well, from a coaching standpoint -- I'm sure from a player's, there's jubilation. There's always a difference between how coaches view something like that, but from the coaching standpoint, it was the exact medicine we needed to get ourselves going in the right direction. You can only tell them so long you have to make the right choices and do the right things, but a win solidifies all that and makes it easier to go back to the rink on Monday and get back to work.
So it was exactly the medicine we needed, and now we have to continue to move forward with that.
Question: To what degree is this home stand important in terms of reconnecting with the fans and building on the momentum that you just created in Denver?
Eaves: There's a lot of reasons that these next four games are important, and you mentioned a couple of them -- reconnecting with our fans. I think it's -- as we were talking this morning as a staff, I don't think we've played a team that we felt we couldn't have beaten in our league or beyond. We've had some challenges at scoring goals and winning games, especially at home.
So I think I got a lot of nice texts and e-mails because our game on Friday was on a national stage, and people were pumped up to see us play and play well against a top-ranked team. As you said, one of the reasons these next four games are important is let's let our own fans see that live and score some goals.
I think for another reason is the fact that we can pull up and get in closer to .500. I think that's our next, most tangible goal is to do that. If we can play well and get some Ws, we have a chance to do that.
Question: You mentioned it being a little bit easier to come back to work after a win on Monday. Do you expect the guys to show a renewed sense of eagerness to get after it today?
Eaves: I sure hope. I know we got home late Saturday night, and I'm hoping the guys had a good day yesterday. Talking just then, our strength and conditioning coach this morning said the guys are good. I think, what we talked about having that energy from the win, it will be there.
I think we have to be intelligent. We're getting down to the first half of our season. We battled an awful lot in practice recently to try to get that mindset that we needed to do. I think today will be a combination of being smart and hard in terms of how we prepare for the weekend because, quite frankly, we don't want to leave our games -- our best things in practice. We've got to get ready to play this weekend.
Question: It's a two-part question, but I'll just stick to the first one for the moment.
Eaves: I appreciate that.
Question: Not a problem. Do you expect a veteran team like one you have to just know where they are right now? That this is a big moment to try to build on this momentum, or do you have to reinforce it, do you think?
Eaves: When we were flying back Saturday night, we sat in the back of the plane with the captains, and we chatted, and this is one of the things that came up. I think they have a grasp.
I don't think that we as coaches, we'll certainly make a point of it, but we're not around the guys as much as the captains, but I think they'll carry that torch for us, and I think it's an important torch to carry.
Question: A couple of weeks ago, during the players-only meeting they had, they talked about the notion that you haven't won anything. A lot of guys on this team have not experienced a great deal of success. The freshmen and the sophomores and the junior class right now.
How do you see that manifesting itself? Do you see that as a hindrance? Do you see that as something that it's a big obstacle to overcome? Is there more -- or do you feel that you're moving in the right direction there?
Eaves: First of all, I want in the meeting. So if I was to go back and analyze what was said in that meeting, I would like to get a little further in depth, like what do you mean nobody's won a championship in this room? What level are we talking about? Was it Pee Wee? Was it high school? Was it junior? I'd like to get more definitive.
So before I put too much stock in that question, I would do that. But I think we just keep moving ahead. I think that what we've got going here, the things that we've been battling through, we've talked about even at our last home game against Mankato, how we felt the ship was turning somewhat, and then we carried it on to this week.
So maybe that ship is starting to come around, and we've got some wind at our back now. So that's the most important thing is to keep that wind at our backs.
Question: Mike, going into the Denver series, the Pioneers were the second highest scoring team in the country. Your team allows only two goals. I know we could sit here and probably break down everything. But what do you think was the deciding factor in your team defense allowing only two goals this past weekend?
Eaves: Several factors. You mentioned one, the goaltending. The other one that jumped off the sheet this weekend is we had 35 blocked shots, which is our most for the first half of the season. That might be a record. I'd have to go back and check. I'd have to have our stat person Paul Capobianco check that out.
But there were several reasons. I think we did a better job in the offensive zone. We created more chances when we got the puck down there. We didn't give up a lot of odd-man rushes against. There was a couple but not a lot. When you're doing that, you're not giving those prime opportunities to the other team. So a bunch of reasons.
Question: Does it matter more to get a win over a team like Denver versus a team that maybe was lower in the standings? Do you think?
Eaves: Well, I think it's another ripple effect that that will help us. The fact that we did it on the road against a real quality opponent, there's a little bit more juice in that. So there is great stock in what you say.
Again, hopefully, that's part of us generating some wind we want at our backs.
Question: Mike, is it still too early to tell the impact of Matt Walsh, or have you seen upgrades in what's happening in your defensive unit?
Eaves: I don't think it's too early because, quite honestly, I have seen things in practices and games as I'm watching drills where the guys are doing those little things that add up to big things during the game. For instance, going back, and the puck is dumped in the corner. The defenseman working hard for his partner to get back and getting to the post and opening up and making the right read.
I think that he's already had some ripple effect there, and it's going to continue. Today, for instance, practice, we're going to split up into forwards and defense. We're going to let Matty have a solid 20 minutes with those eight young men and do things that he's been watching up in the stands and on video so he can continue help them understand who he is and get to some things they need to work at.
Question: Mike, the home fans will get their first look at Nic Kerdiles. Your thoughts on how he played his first two games in a Badger uniform.
Eaves: Very much a positive impact. You could see the energy he brought to the ice. He won battles. He had a couple of assists on Saturday because he was around the puck. On Dahl's goal, he shot the puck, and it hit something and hit something and went in. He has that intangible as a hockey player. That's something -- I think that's the first goal we've had like that scored for us this year. It was kind of banged around and went in.
But it was from that guy who has that knack and has the ability to be involved offensively. It was very much a positive weekend from that end. Watching video, it's his play without the puck that we'll address. As a matter of fact, we're going to have a little video session today to start addressing some of those things. But that's what you would expect, some of those little details. He hasn't been in the lineup for a long time. We haven't been able to give him those type of feedbacks. So that stuff will improve.