Men's hockey: maturity key

Benching leading scorer Robbie Earl hurt Badgers Friday night but UW coach takes long view

In its 3-1 loss to Wisconsin Saturday night at the Kohl Center, the University of Michigan men's hockey team played without two of its best players: forwards Eric Nystrom and T.J. Hensick. Nystrom, a team captain, was recovering from an illness. Hensick, the team's co-leading scorer, was a healthy scratch.

"Hensick was a coach's decision," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "I'm really concerned about his play away from the puck, his defensive zone coverage and parts of the game that he needs to learn. This is a hard way to learn it but I hope he learns."

The benching may have impaired the Wolverines' chances of winning Saturday but Berenson was looking at the larger picture in a young season. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves can understand that thinking.

Friday night in the Badgers' 4-0 loss to Michigan State, Wisconsin's leading scorer, Robbie Earl, sat out the first 10 minutes for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

"I think it's a good thing," Eaves said Saturday night, initially in reference to Berenson's decision. "We sat our leading point-getter last night for 10 minutes and you know what? It hurt our team and I think it hurt Robbie in last night's game because he didn't get his legs. He didn't ever get it going as he did tonight. But I think it builds credibility within your team. I think it creates the habits that you want from your team. I think you're going to be a better team at the end of the year because of the discipline that you're setting right now."

Following the Badgers' win over the then-top ranked Wolverines, Eaves singled out Earl for praise.

"Our leading point-getter, Robbie Earl, doesn't get a point tonight and I felt his presence on the ice every time he was there, whether it was a hit, whether it was play making, whether it was getting scoring chances," Eaves said. "I think he led by example. This is a young man who was disappointed in his effort, as a lot of people were [Friday] night, but he led the charge that was constant throughout our team in terms of having a tremendous response tonight to a poor game [Friday] night."

Wisconsin's response to its rough performance against Michigan State was part of a portrait of maturity that the Badgers are still putting together.

"It just speaks to the quality of the people we have. The fact that they responded in such a great way shows their character, their resilience and the fact that they were able to respond," Eaves said Saturday. "We had a discussion this morning about team maturity and how we ranked in four different areas and one of the areas that we thought we ranked pretty high with was when we get scored on during a game or when we lose a game we respond pretty well. In that essence we felt that we were pretty good. We again showed that tonight.

"There are three other areas that we still need to work on as we go along here and we will continue to do so."

Eaves was asked to expound upon what made up those other three areas of maturity.

"I know the second area that we felt we needed to respond was when things aren't going well during the course of the game, how do we respond?" Eaves said. "Last night we didn't play very well, we never got it going. What happens in those instances is we try to do too much as individuals and we get away from our team game. We need to get better in that area.

"In the locker room we were talking about the maturity of our team, we talk about holding each other accountable when we are going through the course of a game. How do we give each other feedback when we do that. There's different ways to tell your teammate, you know, we need to pick it up….The mature way to do it is to say, ‘you know what fellas, I'm struggling, but I need to do my part to get this team going and you know what you need to do it too.' So that's a mature issue."

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