Monday Press Conference: Mike Eaves

Men's hockey coach discussed learning from last weekend's poor performances

Will Jake Dowell and Jeff Likens get right back into the lineup right away when they get back [from World Juniors]?


Looking forward to having them back, I would assume?

"Well, it'll throw some more continuity back to our team. In looking at kind of the hand we were dealt this past weekend, you know, we were very disappointed in the way things turned out, but I don't think that we want to overreact. We have to take a look at the hand we were dealt a little bit. Talking with Coach Ward this morning about the fact I had missed last year, and I'm going through for the first time where, our first year here, we basically had our whole team when we went into Milwaukee for that showdown and we played quite well. And then last year I missed, you know, the disconnection.

"But here, being in the middle of it where you miss, you've got two kids on the World Junior team, you lose one of your best point-getters the day before practice, and so you've got three people out. We've been away from each other. We're awfully young. I mean, these are all rationalizations. But the fact is this is the hand we were dealt with. The thing that was disappointing is key people that played in this weekend that we needed to play well didn't and we came up short. So we have to address those things, and control the things that we can, and go back to work today."

Mike, how would you assess Ross Carlson's availability for the weekend?

"At this point, he's going to skate [Monday] just with sweats on and just kind of loosen it up a little bit. So we're hopeful that by the end of the week he'll be there for us."

With the events of last night in the World Junior Tournament [U.S. lost 7-2 to Russia in semifinals], do you think that maybe people will better appreciate what you did a year ago, how difficult it is to win a gold medal in that tournament? I know the path that this team took is a little bit different than yours, but nevertheless, that achievement, now a year later, would seem to be a little more magnified.

"Well, I hadn't really thought about that. All I can say, Andy, is any time you go for a world championship it is a difficult climb. We, last year we equated it to trying to get to the top of Mount Everest. And if you've read any of those books about climbing a mountain like that, you run into so many storms getting to the top of that mountain, and you have to batten down the hatches and be prepared for those storms. And I think one of the advantages that we had last year is the fact that the coaches and the players knew each other. We had been together in Europe and we were able to batten down our hatches when we met some of those storms together. But any time you're going for a world championship, there are storms you don't even know exist out there that you have to overcome. So it's a tough journey."

I kind of know you had to try some different groupings and pairings with the forward lines last week, you know. And with getting Jeff and Jake back this week, but only getting them back on Wednesday, is that going to alter the way you're preparing this week, you know, because you're going to have two days without them, two days with them to get ready for all this? How does that impact the way you'll get ready and get some continuity going with them?

"Well, we want to get as close to what we're going to have this weekend, so we'll put line combinations, defensive combinations as close as what we're going to use this weekend, so that's the best we can do. We looked at that, and we're going to take that tack. And even there might be, there still might be some question marks as far as where Mr. Carlson is going to fit in, if he can fit in, when he can fit in. So we've got some, a little bit of play work to do in there, and we'll just go day to day in how we approach that."

When you guys came back from Helsinki and Jake and Jeff and Ryan all admitted they were gassed, it's different. They were in Grand Forks this year, not Helsinki. But realistically, how long do you think before they can really get their feet under them considering the competition they were playing?

"Well, they will have played seven games in 11 days against some of the best competition in the world. The fact that is taken out of the equation is that they don't have to travel seven time zones. It'll be easier from that standpoint. They may be able to get through the weekend on pure adrenaline. I know talking Sutes last year, he felt he was pretty good that first weekend. We'd won the gold and everything. But then it was just a rock hitting the bottom of the ocean there. So I'm hoping that we can get them through this weekend where they have some jump, they can go on some of the fumes or the excitement of being at the World Junior Championship. And then probably next week we'll have to give them off early in the week to get some rest and recover and get ready for the following weekend."

I guess if you just look at the record of St. Cloud people may say, well, they're struggling, but they've played some pretty good teams recently. They're playing pretty well, actually.

"You know, records can often be an illusionary fact. You take a look at Ferris State. I mean, that's a pretty good hockey team and they're below .500. And you watch St. Cloud, you go watch them play Maine and Boston College down in Florida, they were right there with them. So we're going to have our hands full. And, you know, maybe what happened this past weekend, we can use it as a real good building stone for us.

"If we had any grand illusions of what kind of team we are, we talked about it after the game, the fact that being a good team or being a good player and just being average is a very fine line, and if you don't pay attention to details, if you forget how you got to be a good team or a good player, i.e., work hard every day, be right on the edge every day, then you lose that edge. And as individual players and as a team, we lost that edge. We didn't get it back before we played this weekend. So this week will be a reminder of that. I hope this past weekend was also like a wake-up call. And it's one of the hardest things to deal with in athletics, is the chapter on success. We were a pretty successful team in the first half, and now we've got to try to understand what got us there. And we had people that just didn't realize that, and it was a real cruel wake-up call this past weekend."

Adam Burish said after Saturday night's game that he didn't think this team still had found its identity yet. How long, obviously you'd want that to happen by the playoffs, have it happen then, but how long does it go, can it go before a team really can find that? I mean, you're, you know, three months into the season now. Is it a panic sort of thing that you have to get this going now?

"No. It's the same thing we talked about last year, Todd. We talked about forging ourselves into a good team. We will forge ourselves into a good team right up to the playoff time. It's what happens with young people. I mean, we don't play for six months, we get together with eight new faces in our lineup, and as a season goes, you forge yourself into your team. And it'll happen right up to the playoffs in some form or fashion, but the object is to keep going in that direction where you're getting better, you're forging every weekend into the team, to be just the very best you can by playoffs."

We had talked last week, you're going to break the remainder of the season into segments. Is that the way you're kind of looking at this?

"Well, we've got the next, this past weekend, another three weeks before we have a break again, so we'll take a look at that segment and see where we're at. And then we have the final five weeks before we start the playoffs, so we'll take a look at that chunk as well. So it breaks down into really three segments of the season, the first half, there's a brief four-week, and then a five-week schedule before we get going to the playoffs."

Mike, you said a couple of weeks ago that you were surprised at how well your team had done to this point. Has it overachieved? Do you think it kind of, is it as good as you think your team, given what happened this past weekend, or is it just too small of a window to look at and say, well, maybe we just aren't that good?

"No. I don't think you want to put a ceiling on how where your team can go. I think just this past weekend, we were just handed a hand, like in poker, where, jeez, we had some things, we didn't have a lot of aces in that hand, and jacks and queens, and we had to play the hand we were. And we didn't, the cards that we had didn't play as well as they needed to, they didn't play out as well. So, you know, I don't want to overreact, or we don't want to overreact as a team. We just need to understand what happened, and that's what we want to try to get to the players today, let's not overreact, here's the reality of the situation, this is what we need to do, because we know where we've been and the direction we want to go."

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