Monday press conference: Mike Eaves

Men's hockey coach discussed his team's upcoming series with Notre Dame

I've got a question about Chicago [Wisconsin plays Notre Dame at All State Arena Saturday]. How much does this help your program, playing in a city like that which sounds like it's welcoming college hockey back?

"Well it's first-hand exposure. We can get exposure on the TV and through the news print, but being down there, I think people will say, ‘hey, it's different, let's go see what it's all about.' So it's real nice first-hand exposure for the people down there about who we are."

These being your first games of the season on the smaller ice, is there anything you plan on doing this week in practice? I know we talked before about time and space being the difference there. Is there anything you can do to kind of mimic that in practice?

"What we will focus on a little bit as the week goes on is on our power play because most teams will really pressure you on the small sheet of ice. We will try to mimic that at the Coliseum this week by putting cones up and limiting the area the guys have to work. When we do some small area games and such, we'll do them in tighter areas to mimic the fact that they're going to have less time and space, so we will be aware of that."

With this being a non-conference series and then a bye the following week, how do approach or treat this series because obviously you still want to win the games, but there are still bigger conference games coming down the line here?

"Well you heard Andrew Joudrey here on Saturday say they recognize the fact that these are games that could affect the RPI at the end of the year. So they are games that matter, although they are non-conference. We're getting to that point where things are starting to formulate a little bit within the league, within the nation in terms of where teams sit. I think that it would behoove us to win these games as opposed to losing them, for many reasons. But the RPI is one reason that our guys are talking about. They recognize this, especially after what happened in our own tournament here."

Mike, at one point in the season you alluded to you can create a new habit in 21 days, that type of thing. At what point does a team become what they are. I mean, it just isn't going to change. I refer to Notre Dame that they just aren't scoring, and they haven't scored all year. That at some point that that's the way it's going to be.

"Well, we're talking about Notre Dame, I'm not sure what's going out there, I can talk in a general sense about habits. The one thing that dealing with kids this age, or young athletes this age, they're still very moldable. They can change and grow. You can add new habits. I think when we're as old as we are, we can still create new habits in our life. But goal scoring is one of those things that, we've talked about the flow and ebb that goes with goal scorers, but when you have a lot of goal scorers, it goes like this [motioning upward], when you don't have very many the dip seems to go longer. And so we're talking about Notre Dame and their tough times trying to score, really the only way that you can in the long-term change that is get some kids to come in who have magic. We've talked about that offensive magic. And that's something that's frustrating as a coach because there's not a long enough stick made to go put on the ice from the bench and help your team score. It's something that people have to bring with their innate skills."

Is that a characteristic about Notre Dame that you want your players to know, because it's one of those statistics that they'll look at and say, ‘Boy, they can't score. This will give us a big edge.' That it's almost like maybe it might be one thing you don't want them to know about because it might suggest complacency in that sense?

"For us, Andy, I think the task at hand would be to continue to work on the way we play without the puck. If we do our job without the puck, that makes their task of scoring even more difficult. So we won't talk about that to any great length, if at all. We'll bring it up in the sense that we've got to be good when we don't have the puck, our forecheck, our defensive zone coverage, those issues."

At the start of the season, everyone was wondering how penalties were going to be called. You look at it now and your team takes some of the fewest penalty minutes per game in the nation and certainly in the league. Is that one thing that you're happy about that contributes to your penalty-kill success, that you don't have to be out there as much as maybe some other teams have been?

"It's a smart issue in our pyramid. I've always enjoyed listening to Bo (Ryan) talk about officials in basketball and the way they perceive, the way they look from the game. And I've heard Bo talk about when you reach around like this, they're going to call it. You have to have your hands, you know. So he teaches the same things and that's always something that they talk about the basketball teams at Wisconsin, that the Badgers seem to go to the foul line more than their opponents because they teach that, they're smart about it. I think we take great pride in the fact that in our practices we work on technique along the wall to make sure we're not holding. And it we have penalties in practice, we make our guys do push-ups. So it's on they're mind. They've got to get away from those habits. We take pride in that and I agree with your observation that when you have to kill off less penalties you're going to have a higher percentage, probably."

You mentioned before that it would behoove you to win these two games this weekend. How important is it to especially play well in winning those two games because you have a break and taking that momentum in and it will carry over for two weeks. And what do you most want to see our of your team this weekend, besides the two wins obviously?

"Well, it's always a better break when you win, and that fact will be talked about. It's more pleasant to win and then have some time off to rest and recover. This team that we have is still molding itself in terms of the way we want to play on a consistent level. Saturday night was, we just battled human nature. I was up until two in the morning and I talked to my dad who was a coach and, ‘What did you go through? What kind of things...?' We made this analogy, when you go to play a hockey game, let's say Friday night. What you do as an athlete is all day long you build your fire. Picture building your campfire. You get your twigs and your leaves and your small branches and then you get your bigger branches and you build like a teepee. Well when game time starts, you throw the match on, it's ready to go. Well what we did Saturday night during the course of the game, we're trying to build our campfire. And as a result we're scrambling around trying to get the job done. I knew it as an athlete, I felt it. When you win like we did, there's that complacency that sets in. If you look at motivating factors for athletes, it's fear, anger, you've got goals, self-redemption. One of those things has got to kick in big time. We talked about it forever on Saturday. The guys talked about it and I just met with our captains. It's something that even sometimes a negative thing, like fear of being embarrassed in front of your home crowd, you know, that's a motivating factor. That wasn't even -- we weren't ready to play on Saturday. It will be an age-long thing that coaches will deal with forever. I don't know what the answer is. I'm searching and trying to make it more of a point with our team. But to go back to your original question, I apologize for getting on here, but the fact is that consistency is something that we will look for from our team this weekend."

How do you think the NHL [lockout]has affected college hockey? Positively, negatively, attendance-wise? Have you felt anything?

EAVES: "Just from what I've read, and I don't know how it's affected college hockey per se, I would think it would be a good thing. But the fact is that I've read that at the minor league level that attendance is up because of the National Hockey League strike, so that's been a positive from what I've read for hockey in general. For college, I would think people that really enjoy hockey will come out to see colleges. I don't know what other colleges attendances are around the league, but I would imagine that they would be up. So it's been positive for college hockey."

Mike, do you remember playing at Notre Dame and what it was like in that rink, if you want to call it a rink?

"Yeah, it's more like a recreational center. I remember the first time that we were in there, there was a jogger on the indoor track next door and a puck went off the glass and zipped over the stands and hit him in the head. He had to get stitches. It's a little different of a rink. Dave Poulin is a good friend of mine and a fine coach and I think he's battled really hard to get another facility made. If he could get that done, that place could be special because of, you know, it's Notre Dame. The quality of education, the history of it. But until David gets that done a wee bit, it's just got kind of a recreational sense in that building. It takes away a little bit from it."

Most every team, their leading scorer is going to get attention from the opponent. That said, do you think Robbie Earl is kind of gotten pounded pretty heavily here in the last couple of weeks, more so than perhaps he should, that he's probably taken a little bit more abuse than maybe you'd like to see and given the way the officials have called the game?

"I don't think it's been above the ordinary. I think it's been done within the rules and stuff, but he has been taking a pounding. Our goal both nights on our power play with Robbie in there, he's in the slot and they're so focused on him, what was given and what was taken was the back-door pass to Jeff Likens. So he is getting more attention and because of that it's opening up other opportunities for people that he's playing with."

I'm not sure how far you delve into statistics as the season goes along, but it seems to be a few that are quite good in your favor. Are there any that jump to you? "One thing that is pleasing from our coaching staff is the fact that the great balance we have in our scoring. That's the one stat when you look from top to bottom how many guys we have in double digits, how many guys we are getting close to the 20-point mark. And so if you're an opposing team and you're looking at our lineup and you focus on (Joe) Pavelski, (Robbie) Earl and (Adam) Burish, well then who's going to watch the other guys. So you have to have good balance as well in order to shut us down completely."

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