Although admitting the confidence level of his No.18 Wisconsin team isn't what it used to be after going winless (0-5-1) in the month of February, the ninth-year coach of the Badgers was far from bewildered or negative when talking about his team's final regular season series.
"I don't know being negative in any situation has any benefits," Eaves said. "We can be truthful with one another. And I think that we, as a staff, and as a group of people have done that. We're not going to skirt issues. But in bringing those things to the table, what are we going to do about it? And that's move forward."
The words coming out of the visiting locker room at St. Cloud's National Ice Center carried a far different tone. The Badgers had just been swept by a struggling Huskies team, being outscored 11-5, and left a head-scratching group of veterans trying to make sense of it.
"It's the time of the season where we maybe hit rock bottom," senior forward Patrick Johnson said, "and the only place to go is up."
Once figuring to be a lock to secure home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and advance to the 16-team NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin needs to take at least three of four points from Colorado College when the two teams met in the season finale starting Friday.
The Badgers (19-13-4, 11-12-3 WCHA, 25 points) sit one point behind the Tigers (18-15-3, 12-12-2 WCHA, 26 points) in the battle for the sixth and final home-ice berth. Again, things are going against Wisconsin, as the Badgers have only taken three or more points from the Tigers once in the last 12 home series (2005-06) and haven't swept the Tigers, led by former UW assistant Scott Owens, since 1993-94.
"We've got to correct it soon because pretty soon, it's one and done," said junior forward Jordy Murray, who leads the team with 18 goals. "If we come out flat, it could end our season."
Since the Badgers swept Michigan Tech, putting the cap on a five game unbeaten streak to give UW 19 wins on the season, everything had dropped for the Badgers. The power play is 5 of its last 40 (12.5 percent), the penalty kill is 10 of its 37 (27 percent) and senior goalie Scott Gudmandson has faltered, giving up 20 goals in four starts.
"Goody is just as, like the rest of the team, needs a little bit of confidence," Eaves said. "That's all. It's about mechanics and getting back to basics."
This isn't the first time Eaves has seen one of his teams get sucked punched late in the season. On Monday, Eaves referenced this late swoon to the one the 2006 team went through on their way to the NCAA title.
The '06 team started out 18-2-2 overall, but endured a 3-7-1 stretch into late February that coincided with the loss of All-American goalie Brian Elliott and culminated with two horrific conference losses at Minnesota State-Mankato.
The '06 club responded with a regular-season ending series sweep of St. Cloud State at home, going 9-1-0 down the stretch to win the program's sixth national title.
"We were kind of going through the same type of thing, and we were able to gather ourselves then, win the next series, and then go on a roll," Eaves said. "Our hope is that we can do the same with this group, a young group that has played very well at times."
Eaves started to allude to the differences between '06 and '11 but didn't go as far as saying this group lacks the depth, upperclassmen and solid leadership his national championship team had. This year's squad also has not been unanimously ranked No. 1 in the nation, defeated eight top-10 opponents or been included in any serious national championship conversations since losing seven seniors and three dynamic scoring presences from last year's national runner-up team.
The Badgers are 2-9-2 against teams ranked in the top 20 at the time of the meeting, but are 17-4-2 against unranked squads.
"They know that they can beat anybody, and it's just been a tough stretch here," Eaves said. "We have to gather ourselves as the '06 team did and see if we can get ourselves going on a roll."
After an emotional players-only meeting conducted in the visiting dressing room that lasted more than hour Saturday night, the Badgers seemingly have gotten back on the same page.
Even surpassing preseason expectations, where the team was picked to finish seventh in the league, the Badgers know that moral victories aren't going to cut it.
"It comes down to execution," sophomore Derek Lee said. "We need to make more plays, win more battles and puck races. It's as simple as that."
Colorado College (18-15-3, 12-12-2 WCHA) vs. No.18 Wisconsin (19-13-4, 11-12-3 WCHA)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, March 4-5 at 7 p.m. CT
Stadium – Kohl Center (15,325) - 200' x 97'
Television - Friday – Live on TVW in Madison and Charter Extra and Time Warner Sports outside the area, Saturday – FSN Wisconsin, Both nights also tape-delayed on Wisconsin Channel with Friday's game at 11 p.m. and Saturday's at 10 p.m.
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick, Mike Cerniglia)
Series – Wisconsin leads 106-59-9 (55-28-5 in Madison)
Last Meeting - Wisconsin fell 6-5 to Colorado College on Jan. 16, 2010 to split the road series. The Badgers blanked the Tigers the previous evening, 4-0.
UW is 1-4-1 against CC in the last six games of the series played in Madison
UW is 7-13-4 against CC under Head Coach Mike Eaves and just 2-9-1 over the last 12 games since a 9-1 victory at CC on Jan. 14, 2006 that completed a road sweep
CC Head Coach Scott Owens is a Madison, Wis., native and was a UW assistant coach for the 1990–91 season
CC junior Ted Behrend is an Oregon, Wis., native, while junior Arthur Bidwill hails from Fontana, Wis.