"Well, it was the week of practice. It was the games that we played before that week. It was a process of trying to get back momentum. And we said that coming back we knew that was going to be an issue, being off three weeks. Playing the two games that we did the way we did was an attention-getter, and the way we practiced reminded our players this is what we need to do in order to be a good team. And it's the ongoing battle that coaches have with their players. Human nature takes over. When you're successful you forget what it takes to get there and you constantly have to remind them. One thing that coaches have to do is make players do what they don't want to do because it's not fun, but it's, those are the ingredients that make for winning teams."
I know you're giving Jeff [Likens] and Jake [Dowell] a couple days off to get their bodies back in order and maybe even their minds. But knowing them as competitors, how difficult is it going to be for them to back away for a couple days, knowing they, I mean, in their minds they probably want to be out there with everyone going through everything?
"Well, I just met with the captains here a little bit ago and both of them are still sleeping, so I think they're doing okay with it. It's after noon and . . . still got the hatches battened down."
I know you addressed this on Saturday, but the line with [Andrew] Joudrey and [Matt] Ford and [Ryan] MacMurchy, that's a pretty powerful line. It seems to be clicking pretty well right now.
"We were talking this morning as a staff how cycles go. For the first while we didn't have much chemistry with Andrew and Mac in terms of their production was down a little bit, especially Mac's. I mean, Andrew had been quietly getting things done. The line that had been carrying the bulk of our work was the Joe Pavelski, [Adam] Burish, and [Robbie] Earl, and this past weekend they were off a little bit and then whose line steps up.
"But, you know, Mac and Joe and Ford, they're, I think part of it was that. Young Matthew Ford is now going. He's skating better. He's feeling better about his game. He's got confidence and they kind of figured each other out a little bit in there. They're tough to play against. We talked about the fact that Matthew's 210 and Ryan's 207 and Joud's is 195 pounds, and they can all, they all have a level of skill, they understand the game. And when you're big and strong you feed off each other. They're tough to stop. They've got it going now."
I think Saturday night's game is already sold out. Do you sense your guys get more of a buzz out of knowing a game is going to be in front of a packed crowd in here like that?
"Not without question. Again, talking to the captains this morning, they brought that fact up. I mean, they know. And when you run onto the ice at the beginning of the game and you know you're going to have 15,000 people, that's an extra added attacker."
Mike, what does it say that you sold out a game against Alaska-Anchorage, which is not, on a list of rivals is probably down the list?
"Well, I would say this . . . it's the time of year more than anything else. I think it's, you know, football is over. The bowl game is over. And I think people just naturally turn their attention to other venues of entertainment, and now it's our season. It's basketball's and hockey's, and people will turn their attention over and come watch us. And so we have very few home dates this second half, so they're looking at opportunities to come watch a team that's playing pretty well and doing some good things, and Saturday night against Anchorage-Alaska is one of those opportunities."
You say human nature a lot. I would think it's human nature that your club would be ready or willing to play Anchorage again after what happened last year?
" Not only that, but the fact they go up into Minnesota-Duluth and get three out of four points. I mean, that's not an easy task to do. And it's going to be interesting to talk to some people that maybe saw that series or know what's going on with that team. It could be the fact they're starting their second half, they've got a fresh start, they're on the road, and they've got it going. So there are many reasons to be ready to play this weekend."
A two-pronged question here. First, do you pay much attention to Pairwise Rankings, those sorts of things this early in the year?
"We're aware but it's . . . back burner, like it's not like we look every weekend."
And seeing as how they came out first last weekend and you come in number 12, which is kind of one of those positions that if it's at the end of the year is a bubble spot because of how tournaments play out and everything, does that maybe crystallize what you have down the road here coming up for you, that there is some work to do to cement a spot in the tournament, even though that is a long way away?
"Well, we've said that all along. I don't think that makes any difference. We will play to win. I mean, right now we're where we are in the standings, and we will continue to try to stay there. It's one of those mid-zone, mid-term goals that you want to achieve and we'll just play every weekend like we want to play so at the end of the year we're cemented in the way we want to play. It's just not going to be a switch that we try to turn off and on. It's going to be who we are."
Mike, eventually we're going to hear the cliché from one of your players or maybe even you, hard to believe that, that they're not freshmen anymore, they're playing, we've reached that point in the year where freshman mistakes are not tolerable. Have you gotten to that point yet with your freshman class?
"Yeah, we had that talk with them. They heard that when we got back and had the meetings, especially our freshmen defensemen. You know, we can be patient with them, but Coach Ward has said, ‘you know, fellas, now is the time that if you're not playing well we will shorten the bench,' we will go with three guys if we have to, but we can't live with those anymore. So they've had that heart-to-heart talk, yes."
Especially after this weekend's success, how much emphasis do you put on as a coaching staff the special-teams play and what you guys have been able to do this year, and how important has what you've been able to do both on penalty kill and the power play to the success you've had on the ice and the results?
"It's been a big part of the success. I mean, we came in this season with the way they were going to call penalties, we thought, well, we're going to have to put some extra time in that, and that's happened since day one. And I think that Coach Ward has done a tremendous job with the penalty killing. I mean, that's his area. I mean, he's got it up being one of the best in the country. And the players have been with him now for three years, so not much has changed. It's just been the repetition and the feedback, you're getting to the point where you're doing good things, plus you've got a veteran goalie. Your best penalty-killer has to be your goaltender.
"And the power play, we've done a couple things different this year. We split up the two power-play units and as we've been able to pay more attention to each one give them more feedback on an individual unit basis. So that's helped as well, as I look at it. So that's been a big part. You know, you look at every game, we haven't allowed very many and we always seem to get power-play goals. They've both been positive factors in us winning games."
Mike, do you recall from your playing days if penalty killing received that much emphasis . . .
No. Why? Why has it changed?
"It's just evolved. I think that they just, the whole game is evolving in that facet. I think that like here at Wisconsin, I mean, Coach Johnson really loved the power play, so that was his baby. We worked on it all the time. Defenses own coverage, we talked about it, you know, we did a little bit, but it wasn't like in great detail. That's the way the whole game has gotten. There's detail in every facet of the game, be it penalty killing, power play, four on four, face-offs, what are you doing on face-offs.
"It was like, let's drop the puck, see if we can get it, try to get a puck back to the net. Now you're actually running plays. It's more like football, you know. It's like an inbound play in basketball. I remember Coach Johnson used to ask that of the basketball coaches, what's your favorite inbounds play, and it's the same way with hockey now. Every area has gotten more specific."
Was it such a thing that if you were a penalty-killer that it was almost I don't want to have that role, that you'd rather be on the power play, that it was so . . .
"It depended on who you were as a player, because you could look at it like I'm going to use this penalty kill to see if I can get a breakaway, so it depended on what your identity was as a player. If you were an offensive guy, you were looking to intercept the pass and go, depending on who the coach was."
Did you kill penalties?
"Yep. So I was somewhere in between. I'm kind of in that, walk that fine line."