Monday Press Conference: Mike Eaves

Men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves discusses power play, penalties and the young freshmen

You often hear coaches say they like to see improvement game-to-game. That was the case over the weekend. Would you say that's true?

"Very much the case. A lot of it just had to do with having so many young people playing their first game and getting the jitters out of the way. We talked about it as a staff after. It's been six months since any of our players have played a game and you're rusty and you have to get used to the pace of the game, so it was a great improvement from Friday to Saturday because both of those factors.

Mike, do you think you can expect from referees what you got last weekend with, the detail you got Saturday morning from Scott Zelkin? Is that something that maybe in this time of uncertainty, with what's being called and everything, should be expected of referees, to make that extra effort?

"Well, I don't think it's expected of the referees. I think it's going to be a case-by-case, what the referee's comfortable with. Scott was very comfortable doing what he did and I think it was a big help for both coaches, the peace of mind, and then you were able to share that with your team. It's still part of the education process in terms of we're going to have to, we'll learn more this weekend about if they're going to stay with what they've called. Every referee is going to be a little different. But probably the bottom line is they're still going to see a lot of power play/penalty killing opportunities."

Mike, are you good at, you were asked last week about your patience level with the penalties. Obviously your players heard the message from game one to game two. Do you now know, have a better idea of what your patience level will be with them when it comes to penalties? Are you going to kind of go through maybe a round of games in the league before you decide?

"I think the last time we were here we talked about the 21-day thing, about creating a habit, and I know in watching the film yesterday we pulled off clips that we want to take back to our players again and further our education, what they need to get to, and talk about it in practice. So think the process is going to continue. And as we get past our first six home games, that's 21 days, so we'll see where we're at and perhaps we'll hold the guys more accountable. If they're still doing those penalties then they perhaps need a little bit further education by missing a shift or two."

Coach, obviously you practice special teams throughout the week, but given the way things have gone in this early . . . season, do you need to spend even more time working on power play/penalty kills, seeing how important they're going to be right now?

"The best practice we could have had was this weekend. I mean, that Friday night game was all specialty power play. And one thing nice about that is you're doing it against somebody else, so when the other team blocks a shot you're not hurting one of your own guys. So it was, we took a look at that as a great opportunity to go back and look at the video, show our guys what we did well, and we'll continue to work on it. But the best practice was right during those games. It was really good for our kids."

Mike, Rick Gotkin, the Mercyhurst coach, was talking in admirable tones after the game about, do they teach how to block shots? Do they actually do stuff like that? You guys do. Is that, do you get the impression that that's not a standard operating procedure at other schools?

"I would wager that in our league it is. I don't know about other leagues because we don't play them as much. But I get the feeling watching video that blocking shots is a big part of guys', our players', their teams' tactics. We see it in video, so I'm sure everybody in our league does it."

Could you talk to the elements that are needed? There's technique involved. There's emotions that are involved. Because it's not an instinctual thing to just, you know, fling your face in front of a puck. I mean, you've got to have an idea of what you're doing and what you want to get done on a certain play.

"Well, it starts with, we use the verbiage you have to line up with the puck on the stick. A lot of players will line up with the body and the puck's going to miss them because the puck is outside their body. So you line up with the puck on the stick. And we use the term get big low, you have to get big low, and there's technique. Mark is an excellent shot blocker.

"But even in Pittsburgh when we worked with Kevin Constantine, we talked about it all the time there. And the Dallas Stars team that won a Stanley Cup a few years ago, their shots being blocked was phenomenal. So, and it does take, it does take a little bit of intestinal fortitude. I think the college players have it a little easier because they have facemasks on, but in the pros those guys don't for the most part, and you're asking them to get down, and especially penalty killers. It's, you know, those are saves that your goalies have to make, and if you can get them blocked by the forwards up higher, the defensemen, then those are the types of scoring chances that you're taking away from the other team."

Coach, I believe Jake Dowell's quote over the weekend, saying after one of the games that this year's team is better offensively than maybe a year ago. Do you agree with that assessment, or at least has the potential to be a better offensive team than you had a year ago?

"I think it has potential based on the people that we brought in. And I think based on that we'll be able to do a few more things offensively, what we ask of our players. So we knew that was a need. You saw our goals scored. I mean, we felt if we had, if we got to three goals a game we had a pretty good chance to win because of our goaltending defense. But we want to improve our chances to win by maybe getting to three goals or higher more consistently. So with the young people we brought in and the returning guys having more experience, we can ask for a little bit more from them offensively. But I believe Jake is right, we have potential to be a better offensive team."

Mike, do you know how many shots your team blocked over the weekend?

"Well, I know on Saturday, I believe it was 37. I'm not sure what the count was Friday."

I just wanted to ask you, for people that think that the WCHA has lost some star power, they should come out and watch Michigan Tech, I would think, this weekend, right, and your club too.

"Well, I'll tell you, seeing the score Friday night, it was 5-4 for Duluth, and Saturday night Duluth had them 3-1 going into the third. And I talked to the league commissioner, Bruce McLeod, this morning, he was up at Tech watching the games, and he just said they have a whole different attitude. They think they can win now. And much like us after, you know, you go through a transition. They've got a new coach now for the second time around. And they think they can win. And they've got Chris Connor, who's one of the more prolific goal-scorers around. And people are going to see some good hockey this weekend, that's for sure."

Mike, what was the biggest thing you took out of the weekend? What did you learn the most about your team that maybe was unanswered before you played?

"Well, there were a lot of answers on many different fronts with that, Michael, just because it was the first game in such a long time. Probably the thing that jumps off the page the most after watching the video was I saw the defensemen, our young defensemen, really settle down in the second game, made better reads, made better passes. They didn't seem to be so jumpy with the puck. And that's a huge factor for us because they are so young.

"It's three young freshmen that are playing there, and I really liked some of the things they did. I saw them make good reads with the puck and make some excellent passes, Piskula, Olinger, all the guys did a nice job. So to answer your question, it will take a long time, but that's the biggest thing that jumped off the page, is how our defensemen settled down."

How much does Bruckler help them and does he help them . . .

"Without doubt. I mean, Bernd is a little bit more comfortable getting out of the net and stopping a puck and moving it, but that saves the defensemen from going back and getting their face put into the glass. So having a veteran goalie really does help, for that reason, and for the reason he's going to cover up some of their mistakes and allow them to have a short-term memory."

Mike, could you address where Matt Ford is with his injury? You said last week he was ahead of schedule. He said he's ahead of schedule. Do you have an idea what, when he'll be in your lineup, and Josh Engel as well?

"Well, for Matt I think it's still week-to-week. The next phase for young Matthew is getting on the ice and then it becomes day to day. So we're still on the week-to-week with Matt. And young Josh, he lifted weights this morning, so that's a good sign. But I think the doctor's got to take a look at that again. Sometimes with those injuries, you know, it takes a couple days if there is something more serious to show up."

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