Monday Press Conference: Troy Ward

Wisconsin's men's hockey assistant coach Troy Ward addressed media Monday

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Troy, is this a unique situation for you replacing a head coach and being without some players? And in regards to the players, do you treat it as if they were just injured and out for a couple of games to keep it as normal as you can?

"Well, the first part I'll answer just for myself. I guess it's a little bit out of the norm. I've been a head coach a lot in my career, but never in an interim situation such as this. But the way (Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves) has formed our staff since day one, as we got here, he has pretty much allowed me to do a lot of the coaching. So, I guess I look at this as just an extension and if anything, instead of on the left end of the bench for two periods, I'll be more in the middle. I think everything will run pretty much the same. In regards to our players, treating as such as if there are some injuries, I think the opportunity in front of the young men that have an opportunity to go in and play the next four games is a tremendous opportunity. We have a roster size of about 28 guys since day one and now some other guys will have an opportunity to fill those shoes in maybe a more consistent basis than maybe they were allowed in the first half of the year, or so. I like that for those guys and that's a very well-deserved chance for these guys and hopefully they'll seize the opportunity that lies ahead of them."

Troy, you have four games, but is this a chance for you to show the college hockey world ‘Hey, I can do this too'?

"Well, I guess maybe … not really for me. You know, I'll always rely on my past experiences. I guess certainly in front of the Kohl Center and down in Mankato (Minn.), it's a chance to match wits with other coaches and I haven't done that now in a couple of years. But it's a different situation too, Brian, in the fact that it's an interim situation and when you have those situations, for me, is that when you have those situations, nothing will change because Mike and I are very close in terms of a lot of things that we think about and a lot of things that we do. I don't see it as me implementing any changes, so I think I look at it as basically, I'm just there for a few games and then I'll go back to my normal role and look at it that way. But it would maybe be looked at differently for me to showcase some of my abilities, if you wanted to say it that way, in a different way if I was changing systems and doing different things, but this program will stay on course as the way it was the first half and hopefully I can continue to facilitate the way it has been."

Troy, you and Mike go way back, obviously. Your roots are pretty deep. Where did this closeness come from? Obviously, he must have an incredible amount of trust in you to not only turn things over to you, but be so outspoken in ‘Things are okay. This is not going to change. I have the utmost confidence in Troy'. Where did that trust come from?

"Well I think the trust … certainly I think we go back any time you have trust in somebody, something strikes you the first time you work with somebody. I think it goes all the way back to (UW-) Eau Claire. But from then there we spent some time apart. We were fortunate enough to get back together in Pittsburgh (assistant coaches for the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins). I think working as counterparts as assistant coaches together, one being an offensive guy, Mike, in Pittsburgh, and me being a defensive guy, I think there was more trust earned there because maybe the fact that I didn't play in the National Hockey League and I was able to coach at that level, so I think that we gained a lot of momentum during our time there in terms of trust and I think Mike saw me as a teacher after being apart for some years. Really in Eau Claire, he never really saw me as a teacher because Mike pretty much ran the show. I was there in a support role, where in Pittsburgh we shared common roles but in different … when one had the puck and when we didn't, I was in control. I think in our last year here, again we have come back together after being apart again and Mike has possibly seen me grow as I have seen him grow as a coach and a man. So, I think it has been an ongoing process throughout our careers together. I think the healthiness has been that we have been together, been apart, been together, been apart and now we have come together with a lot of experiences that have made us pretty tight together."

After the last series I think Mike mentioned that you two are very similar and that he didn't expect any changes, but there's got to be even some subtle differences between you two and how you approach things. What might we see or even fans be able to notice?

"Systematically, there won't be anything. I think possibly you're going to probably be able to evaluate different things during the course of the games and when I say that, I mean especially when maybe we get into the Mankato series where they were our last WCHA opponent and they will be our first one after. Match-ups and how we handle match-ups and how things are done that way, I think … I don't know if there will be changes, it's just the fact that I'll be running the bench compared to what Mike did and we'll have some tape and a little bit of a feel for that. I'm a little bit probably more of a fiery guy than Mike in some ways, so maybe there could be some times where my body language on the bench could be a little bit more of a … animated, I guess you could say. But you know there is as much passion in both of us, but I think at different times, it will come out differently. So that's a possibility for people to notice. But I think systematically or anything else we do will be the same and certainly, internally, in how I do things on a day-to-day basis relative to being in front of the team and how I get the statistics to them and how we prepare ourselves to play will probably be a little bit different than how we have, but not different."

Troy, it's probably not totally fair comparing what Mike is doing since he's expected to win a gold medal, they (the 2004 U.S. National Junior Team) are the favorite to win the gold medal in the world, so they are certainly on a world stage. But you take over a team that is the hottest team in the country, you know the situation as well as anyone. Can you define this moment? Is this a critical juncture of the season that you step into to run this team?

"Well, I think the criticalness is in all of us that are in that room, Andy. I think the fact that we have a chance to continue something that we have started a couple of months ago is a unique opportunity and the criticalness of it for me is the fact that we are going to have some new players come into the lineup and I think my ultimate challenge is to get those guys to overachieve and play to the best of their abilities. That, to me, is a big challenge because those guys haven't been afforded too many repetitions of late here and if we are going to continue to play as we have, I think that good coaches in any sport find a way to utilize players that don't play a lot and make them perform to the best of their abilities. So, ultimately, it is a critical time, it's a situation … not critical, it's a time in our season where there is going to be a lot of growth. Now, should we stumble and should we possibly fall, I think that is only a good thing down the road. Not setting ourselves up to do that, but if it does happen, then we're going to have a chance to utilize some people that I think need some time right now in our systems and I think need some time to showcase their abilities. But at the same time, these players that have a chance to play within the next four games, they've demonstrated throughout the first half of the year and in their years prior to this season that they can play at this level and do a nice job. To me, ultimately, that is my biggest challenge. I've got to get those guys to be ready to play and perform at a high level. The guys who have currently been playing, those guys have got to maintain everything that have put forth. So, those situations I think, I'm going to have to do a good job internally, whether it's behind the scenes on off days and whenever in terms of preparing this team as Mike has done to get these guys always ready to play."

Ten years ago, there was a certain level prestige in hosting a holiday tournament and it would indicate that you are a good enough program to host a something like that. Given that there are 10 tournaments this year and 40 different teams will be playing in tournaments like that, is there still the same level with you guys hosting the tournament like this?

"Yeah, I think so. I remember when I was at the University of Denver in the early 90s, if I'm not mistaken, this (the Badger Showdown) was one of the first Christmas or holiday tournaments to be started. The neat thing about this particular tournament this particular year is that it comes back to Madison for the first time. I don't remember the whole history behind it, but I thought the history was that they moved it to Milwaukee for other people in the state to get to see a Badger game and, obviously, attract more people over a weekend series that they could do at the Coliseum. Just coming back this morning, reading the paper from the Minnesota tournament that happened Saturday and Sunday, it was interesting to read. As I read that, I just looked at the whole thing; it still seems to me that the Badger Showdown is still one of the premiere tournaments in the country because it was one of the first ones to start. The one thing I've always said about the Badger program, prior to getting here, especially with the Showdown, no matter who went to this tournament, they always came away saying it was first class. It's a pretty special tournament. I think we're looking at that internally. I think the people that are putting this tournament on here within the University have really done a lot of work in preparing it for that. I think as a team, as I prepare the team, starting on Christmas evening, we're going to do the same thing. One of the things I thought Mike (Eaves) did a tremendous job with, last year, was installing the fact that this is a big thing for our team. I thought it was one of the critical points in last year's season, when we got our season rolling a little bit, down the second half. We did play well in Milwaukee and it certainly gave us some momentum the second half, so we'll treat it as such."

You mentioned getting the guys ready who are going to be filling in. For the regulars, who are still here, there's almost a built in psychological excuse that if you do stumble, they can say, ‘Well we didn't have our full team'. Are you going to address that with them, or do you think it's a mature enough bunch, given that they're still young, that they're going to know that maybe we have to elevate our play too, because we are a little bit short-handed?

"The maturity of the group is growing everyday within us. Especially, as this streak as went on, I think that we've seen a drastic change in our guys preparation and in their daily work, as a group. Ultimately, the first point is I will have to make sure that this team understands that at about eight o'clock on Christmas night. Our preparation will start from the first time we walk into the Kohl Center to be ready for the 27th. It's not something that I feel like I can address on the 27th at five o'clock for a 7:30 game. I think that will be addressed right away on Christmas evening to make sure that we understand the importance of what's ahead and where we need to go."

Troy, can you define the duties that Bill (volunteer goalkeeping coach Bill Howard) is going to have, what more of a role he's going to play, if at all. Obviously, he'll be on the bench. What things are you looking for from him, what help are you expecting from him?

"Well, I'm going to utilize his experience. To utilize that, I think things probably for Bill will be a little bit different during the next couple three weeks. I'm going to ask him to be here in the mornings. I'm going to ask him to be in my staff meetings and I'm going to ask him to be ready to go and understand what I'm laying out for the team and what his role will be. His experience will be inevitably critical to me and certainly to the rest of the guys. I think Bill has done such a good job over the years, and certainly, I want to speak to our year, year and a half here and the fact that he has a good relationship with all of our players and he intermixes well. Now, his role will probably step up more into my role, where he's kind of got to be the go to guy, for the guys, during the course of this time and I'll probably step into Mike's shoes, obviously, a little bit, where I'll be a little less available at times because of other commitments and preparations that maybe Mike usually handles and him and I meet behind the scenes and now I've got to do. Bill's role as far as being on the bench, changing the defensemen, making sure things are ready to go there, and certainly, in our preparation by video, which we do a lot as a staff, I think that's going to change for Bill. So, I see it as I'm going to look at Bill a lot more than I usually do. Usually, I see him from about 2:30-3:30 every day and now I'll see him in the mornings and making sure we're going to get this team prepared to play. His experience will be invaluable to me."

Is one practice enough time to get ready for two games?

"You know my favorite quote is ‘Uncle'. Not really. You'd like a little more time, but at the same time I'm hoping that we're fresh and we're ready to go. We've got the rest of the day today to talk to every athlete, hopefully on the phone today and tomorrow. Certainly, for twofold, to wish them a Merry Christmas, and number two, to make sure their continuing to get their work in, so that we're ready to continue to put forth the best effort we can and hopefully keep this streak going. Ideally, we'd like a little bit more time prep time. But, at the same time, last year we didn't have that and I felt like our guys were really fresh coming back and they were excited about the challenge. So, I see it no different."

Did Mike give you any specific instructions before he left?

"No. That's a great question because the answer is that he left me nothing. He didn't even leave me a note of good luck. I don't take it the wrong way, that's how close we are. I haven't spoken to Mike now … I've been out of town. I was in Los Angeles for a week. I didn't speak to him for the last three days. So, I guess the way I look at it, it's just a normal day here. It's just that Mike won't be here and he expects everything will run the way it has with him. I think Bill and I and Mark LeRose will continue to do that. I guess I look at it as somewhat of a compliment, the fact that he didn't leave me a lot of instructions and kind of says, okay, keep this thing going and that was basically our last conversation. I'm sure I'll speak to him, if not tonight, tomorrow, prior to things, but he didn't leave me many instructions."

Just get a W, huh?

"Yeah, just Al Davis, ‘Just win, baby.' That type of thing, but no, no specific instructions."

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