Monday press conference: Troy Ward

Men's hockey associate head coach discussed the upcoming showdown with Colorado College

Ward: "Toughest weekend of the year and Mike's [Eaves] not here. How's that?"

Troy, an injury update first if you can give it to us. Any chance Matt Ford, I mean, is he going to be available for practice right away, and then A.J.'s shoulder?

"Matt Ford first. I think his progression is good, from what we heard just a little bit today. Obviously they'll know more this afternoon [Monday] out at the Coliseum. And A.J., I don't know any updates on A.J. He was slated to see the right people today, but was in some discomfort obviously yesterday flying home. But he's got to see the appropriate people today. We'll probably know more on their status tomorrow."

Defensively would you say your club's in a little bit of a funk? Is that safe to say?

"Well, I use words like crisp or sharp. I don't think we've been exactly that. I think one of the things that's been a little bit more difficult for us to deal with is the past two weekends we've had to probably deal with the two deepest clubs in the league offensively. So that's probably put more guys on notice on a consistent basis shift after shift. The thing that has been tough for us a little bit might be the time of the year. You throw in where they're going academically and that, I would like to see us a little bit sharper.

"But the reason why I think teams have had some success, we haven't defended from the perimeter as well. I liken it to basketball, it's no different. I mean, played that game, and you just heard Lisa [Stone], I mean, you've got to defend the perimeter. And when we don't do that and we allow them into our zone, they're taking advantage of that because of their skill. And we've seen that the last two weekends.

"But we're also facing a different opponent at a different time of the year, where our young guys are getting to understand that there's a different pressure than there was before Christmas. And we're playing different teams than we did right after Christmas right now. So their ability to penetrate has given us a little bit of some difficulty throughout the last two weekends. And also, obviously you look at defending the second and third shots, and those are situations where you hope that your goaltender can help you out in certain situations. And so it's been a group effort in terms of other teams having success."

Troy, does that, having to defend the two teams that are very, very deep, not only just at forward, but the fact that they bring their defensemen into the play so readily, does that make getting ready for CC any easier knowing that their team is really led by two really dynamic offensive players that are on the same line?

"It's pretty much the same thing. It's just going to get tougher. But it's a good thing for our young players right now. It's a good thing for our team. We've got to learn to defense from the outside, as we just talked about. We're going to see it again this weekend, a very good skating team that's not overly physical but will attack us with five people. We've defended a lot this year prior to Christmas, a little bit after. We've only had to defend three players at times. And we've been able to do that as a team. We've shut down and taken away the middle of the rink.

"But when you add the likes of the defensemen we've had to face the last couple weeks, and then coming into this weekend a little bit of the same, it's provided us with a different task and a much deeper task. And we're getting better. We were excited in a lot of ways after watching the tape all day yesterday on how we performed on Saturday. We felt that we defended pretty well from the perimeter and did a better job. When we haven't been able to do that the last two weekends we've seen both teams that we've played have success early down low."

Both nights last weekend Bernd gave up goals that were sort of uncharacteristic for him. He tends to respond to those kinds of things in a positive way over his career. Being this his last weekend here in this building, do you think he's going to up it a little bit more? Do you see that coming from him possibly?

"Well, the nature of Bernd Brückler is that he's always done exactly what you said. We don't expect anything different. I think everybody sitting in here, whether you've seen Bernd play in person or on TV through his four-year career here, he's always responded to those situations. He has been the staple of this program since we got here as a coaching staff. And if we look to the most consistent player we've had over the last three years as a staff, he's been there for us.

"And, yeah, there's some saves definitely that Bernd as a very proud man would like to have back in the last two weeks. But he's bailed this program out for three years that we've been here, and he's been the cornerstone of our program and the success we've had, and he'll rise to the top again when it's most needed. So we have all the confidence in the world in Bernd and what he'll do for our program down the stretch."

Troy, it's fair to assume that you're hoping, I don't think at any point this season you've ever had, as deep as your offense seems to be, had all four lines going well at the same time. Do you, the way that Joe and Robbie played this past weekend, are they the guys that you're starting to rely on, that that line's been the most consistent one for you, that if the other two, you know, Jake and Andrew's lines start coming together that it'll just be a complement, that that's your go-to line right now?

"Yeah, I would say so. You know, if you saw those games, whether you were on the bench at my view or on TV or was there, I mean, that was a pleasure to watch this weekend. That's just good hockey. Those two put on a show. And they deserve a lot of credit for what took place certainly on Saturday. And Adam Burish complements that line very well. They have been in a lot of ways the go-to line, I think, for us in offensive chances all year. They've probably produced the most consistently.

"What's happened I think a little bit with their line right now is the simplicity at what they're doing. They've really simplified their game, and I think we're seeing a little bit of an emergence of Robbie Earl and his maturity as to how he approaches the game. He brought some physical things to the game this weekend that he brings I think sporadically at times, but more consistently this weekend. And that provided him with a lot more room.

"And we don't see it a lot in college hockey, but in pro hockey when you create room because of your own physical abilities you're given a lot more time and space to utilize your skill. That's why the Forsbergs and the Jagrs have so much time and space. There's also a fear factor that goes with defending them. And Robbie certainly added that to his game, and Joey complements that so well because he has just great vision.

"And so with that has come a lot of opportunities. I mean, Robbie hit a couple of crossbars on Saturday night there and did some amazing things on tape. It was actually, it was a fun weekend to watch those two play. But they're definitely the go-to line on our team right now offensively."

Considering that CC is a mostly Division III school, a small school, and they've had the Hobey Baker winner two years ago and someone that'll probably be considered for that pretty highly on the list this season, what does that say about the program that they have out there in your mind, what, you know, Scottie's been able to do in this last couple years too?

"Well, it says a lot. I mean, I have a lot of respect personally and we do as a staff for Scott Owens. First of all, I go way back to when I was at Eau Claire and Scott was our Madison Capitals junior A coach in town here, living out of some little office over there at Hartmeyer Arena. So Scottie and I go way back.

"And Scottie's biggest gift is the fact that he has a great vision of talent. He did that here for the Badgers' program. He brought good players in. And he lets his players play. I would say we probably as a staff micromanage a lot differently than he does. That doesn't make us better or worse. It's just that we're different. Scottie just throws the puck out there and lets them play. He gives them some parameters, but they play and they play to their skill levels.

"And he's a guy that will always recruit very quick and agile players that are able to share the puck but also shoot the puck. And so it makes it, you know, a little bit more difficult than even the last two weekends. We feel that this is one of the better offensive teams in the country. So not only can they beat you one on one, but they can also beat you with the shot.

"And so for us to have success this weekend we're going to have to play at a little higher level than we have the last two weekends. But we have a lot of respect for what Scottie has done. And it's one of the premier hockey programs in the country. And for me it has been, being around the WCHA since the early ‘90s. I mean, it has always attracted good players and they do a good job there, when Donnie was there and obviously Scottie's picked right up where he left off."

Troy, in the last couple weekends when you guys have lost games, some of the players and Mike have mentioned that afterwards that there was some concern of the level of play of some of your players, some of the players not bringing it to the level that you need to at this time of year. Do you just have to hope now that that clicks with some of those guys on their own, is their a different message or something you can do, because it obviously doesn't get any easier down the stretch for you here?

"No, it doesn't get any easier. And for us as a staff, it's about the clarity in which they operate throughout the week. I mean, in order for us to perform at a high level not only as a team but an individual within the game, they need to have good weeks. And that starts in practice. We need to have a good week of practice this week.

"But they also have to be good students, and they have to live a good life socially and academically and do things right, because when you get into those situations where we're playing in front of packed houses, whether it's here or on the road this weekend, and you've got the pressure and all that, you oftentimes, what we're seeing right now is some of the clarity that we've got within the play that we have, within the individuals or in our team system, has to do with how we're doing during the course of the week.

"Last week we had a decent week but not a great week, and we had a decent weekend but not a great weekend. And they go hand in hand. So we're looking to simplify our life a little bit and make sure that we're taking care of things in all facets of life so that we can be a good hockey team on Friday, Saturday. And that's going to allow us to be good, is if we can do that. So that's our biggest task, I think, is to get some balance."

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