Monday Press Conference: Mike Eaves

Men's hockey coach Mike Eaves sounds off on hosting the Denver Pioneers, the defending NCAA champions, the team's prolific offense and his own experiences on Wisconsin's NCAA Championship squad.

Mike, you know from experience. Is it more difficult to win an NCAA title or to defend an NCAA title?

"Well, it's always harder to stay on top, and especially in college where things, there's a natural evolution. Actually, pro sports has become more like that because of free agency, but it's harder to stay on top. Everybody's taking a shot at you and it's, it's hard to get there, but it's even harder to stay on top. So they've got a big task in front of them."

Mike, as a follow-up to that, what happened from your junior year to your senior year that, going back to that point, that you remember that clicked your junior year, didn't click your senior year that you guys weren't able to repeat?

"Well, what I remember about that, Andy, is that at the end of the year going to the playoffs, we really started to play really well. I mean, in the playoffs I think we were playing our best hockey of the year. But what happened is between the time the playoffs ended and the NCAAs started, we had two weeks off, and we lost that magic we had. We were doing two-a-days and when we went and played out at Providence, we played hard, but there wasn't that magic, that feeling that we had during the playoffs. And that's part of sports. It's too bad we couldn't have gone that following weekend and played because I think we would have kept that magic and had a better shot at winning it."

Mike, when you were out in Denver last season they were in a stretch where they were down. They had a bunch of those when they went up and down. Seeing them have a season like that and still end up as a national champion, does that make it even more impressive what they did last year in your mind?

"Impressive from the fact that it showed that George had enough wherewithal and leadership to say, hey, let's stay the course, let's continue to battle. And the one thing about the WCHA is that, you know, all the teams make the playoffs and if your schedule is a decent schedule, you play well against other good teams, then, you know, you're going to have a shot to get in the tournament, and that's what they did. And that's, you know, there could come a point this year, as with our first year, that we talked about long term, we want to be playing our best hockey at the end of the year. And that will always be the . . . in George's (Gwozdecky) success of last year just proves that."

Will there be a little more magic in practice this week or in the games because it is the defending national champ, even though you guys seemingly play a national champ every year?

"Oh, I think so. I think . . . this morning talking to Mike Potenza about our workout this morning, the guys were excited to be there at 7:15. And so I think practice, we didn't have a great Monday last Monday and I can't tell you why other than we took a half a step back. But we talked about it as a team. The fact that Denver's coming back in here as the defending national champions, I think we'll have more jump in our step on Monday."

Given the number of kids from Wisconsin that you have on your team, and the number that are out there playing Division I college hockey, is it realistic to think that you could close the borders? I know that was a thing that Barry Alvarez did when he first got here with regards to recruiting was that the best kids that are from the state of Wisconsin are going to end up at Wisconsin. Is that part of your recruiting approach or not?

"Probably not to the degree to which you just stated it but it's a truth in the fact that the best kids in Wisconsin we should certainly have a shot at and we will make that all out ditch effort to get that shot. Like right now we talk about Mr. Kessel...did I say the wrong word? But he's a young lad that's out there and we're going to take a good shot at as long as four other or five other colleges are."

I know you said earlier in the year that you thought this team would be a better offensive team. But has it surprised you at all the fact that you're getting goals from seemingly everyone who puts on a jersey and goes out there over the course of the last couple of weeks?

"It's been a pleasant surprise. It shows the balance that we have. And what has happened, you know, you think you bring in the young freshmen that are going to have some of that potential to score. What has happened, the guys that are returning, they have another year under their belt, they feel more comfortable within the league, and they're doing some good things. So it's nice to have that balance."

Mike, it would appear that you're pretty happy with the lineup that you've put out there in the last couple weeks by the fact that it hasn't really changed. You know, obviously defensemen injuries has quite a role in that. But is it the kind of thing where you're confident right now with the guys that you put out there and there's really no reason to change it up, or maybe are you hoping to get a little more from the guys that aren't playing, to see a little more in practice from them to show that they really are, you know, dedicated to getting in the lineup?

"Well, I think the confidence is growing in the guys that are in the lineup right now. And it seems that our team's coming up here, the ability to play is getting tougher and tougher. It's like climbing a mountain, the altitude's getting higher and higher, there's less oxygen. And so we're going to have real battles on our hand here going into the next three weekends for sure.

"And so we're going to, we always go week to week in practice, and the guys that aren't in our lineup, I mean, they have extra incentive to practice well and keep themselves ready. And in a lot of cases they need a break. They need perhaps somebody, unfortunately, maybe, you know, gets a flu bug or something like that, but they have to keep themselves ready. It creates a good atmosphere in practice because it does stay competitive."

Mike, I know you'd like to be good from start to finish in every game, but it seems like you've been getting stronger as the game has progressed. Is that desire? Is that conditioning? A combination of the two?

"Well, it's a combination of a lot of things, and the things you just mentioned, conditioning, I think focus, the fact that we want to come out and have a great start every game and then by the end of the game I think that our conditioning does play a factor in that. So we keep hammering that, the guys are buying into it, they're seeing the results."

Mike, you've been scoring a lot of goals. Is that a function of who you're playing or are you simply a better offensive team this year?

"I think a combination. I mean, I think going into the next three weekends we're going to see what we really have because we're playing some, well, you're playing the defending national champion and then Minnesota, who is a two-time national champion, North Dakota, who's a perennial team that's . . . right out there. So we're going to get a truer indication just because I think the teams that we play are playing at a high level."

Are you playing a little more offensive style than you played last year because you have a little more offensive skill, or are you playing the same style and you're scoring more because you have that offensive skill?

"It's a combination. We feel we have guys that are in the lineup that can score, so we open up a few more areas. But I made a lot, I know last year, people were talking about our team, if we got to three we had a chance to win and you seem to play defensive. A little bit of that is the people that you have who gives you the chance. And now that we have more offensive people, we can tweak some things because we have the ability to do those things."

So you're undefeated, you score a lot of goals, you're getting good play even out of Brian Elliott when he's playing in the net. What's the complaint or what is the biggest area this team needs to improve upon then right now?

"Well, it's consistency, it's being time-tested, and those are areas that coaches will always tell you. What hasn't gotten a lot of notoriety is the fact I think we have people that are accepting their role. I mean, if you talk about balance, you take a look at our, quote, unquote, fourth line, they've done a great job. They've chipped in offensively. They haven't taken penalties when they get out there. They give us energy. And so they're doing their role. Everybody seems to be doing their role on the team. It's getting everybody on the bus and putting them in the right seat, those folks accepting their role and getting it done, which creates a good team atmosphere."

Mike, what's your . . . elsewhere, you've had some pretty good captains, Mark Stuart with your national team a year ago. Where does Adam Burish fit into that? I mean, he's . . . came up and talked to you a lot during the off-season and he seems to be one of the more effective elected captains that's come through here in a while.

"Well, I think, the thought that comes to mind through personal experience and reading books about leadership and talking to other people about leadership, leadership is a quality that is developed. Now where you start from depends on a lot of things, and I think that it depends on your family and the people that were around you when you were growing up.

"And Adam, like a lot of other young men on our team, has got a good set of values from home, and that's a big factor. I think with Mark Stuart, Mark had the same type of family. They talked about what kind of people they want to be, their foundation, their character growing up. So that lends itself to being fertile ground for a leader to step forward. So Adam has that in his past, and now we talk about leadership on a conscious level, that he's able to take his vision of what he thinks it is and we grow it out here so he sees more. And I'll tell you what, the three young men that have the formal captaincies are doing a really fine job for us with Adam leading the way."

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