Monday press conference: Mike Eaves

Men's hockey coach discussed his team's recent performance and what lies ahead

After further review, was that first-period goal a goal, Mike?

"Didn't watch it yet, to be real honest with you. I haven't watched it yet. Troy's up there right now breaking down the film. So I had some other stuff I had to get done today, so I'll talk to you after about that one."

Mike, you've talked often about wanting to be playing your best hockey when you go into the playoffs. This being the last weekend before the playoffs, is there any part of your game where you guys are at your best?

"Well, absolutely. I mean, how many goals have we given up in the last four games? So I would start right there and build from that. And the fact is that, you know, as we sit back and we lament about the fact that our power play is struggling and we're having trouble scoring goals, I would much rather have that happening now than in two or three weeks when we were, as Mark was talking about, one and done. The fact is there were some real good signs that good things are happening.

"As we looked at this past weekend, and as disappointed as we were in our Saturday afternoon game, we had 14 kids that hadn't played in that building yet. Fourteen. The only kids that had played in there were our seniors and juniors, which are few on our team. So when you sit back and you take a look at that, and I recall going into the Philadelphia Spectrum or the Boston Gardens when I was a rookie [in the NHL], you know, there's only one way you have to get through that and that's by playing.

"And our kids did a great job responding. We were a different group of people, young people, on Sunday afternoon because the fact is, you know what, for a lot of those kids they were looking around and the type of team and that. We faced our fears and we played like men on Sunday afternoon. And so I take a look at that as a huge growth and a positive for us right now, if we're looking for positive things.

"Those are the kind of things that Mark was just referring to in terms of your team going through those tough times and figuring out how you win games like that or how you play in games like that, invaluable, because ultimately, as Mark said, it's an intrinsic feeling. By going through tough times and winning those battles on the road and finding out how to play in places like that, that's how you forge yourself into a team that's going to win in the playoffs."

Since it carries over that these guys haven't played in the Duluth, are you referring basically to the fact that the palace that they were just in, that they were so impressed by it, that's probably not going to be the case up in Duluth.

"No, probably not, especially the pink locker room that we'll have."

Mike, have you guys as a staff talked about what you'll do with your forward lines this week after changing them yesterday back to what they had been a few weeks back?

"No, we haven't. I mean, we, you know, the guys this morning, basically took this morning off to get their personal life in order and do some things at home, take dry cleaning and such. So we'll meet this afternoon and tomorrow morning and determine some things. We have to watch the game too. We've got to break that down as well."

We will probably be getting All-WCHA ballots here in the next week. Is there any of your players that you truly believe should be first-team All-WCHA?

"Well, in our minds, and just in terms of, you know, if we take the rookies, I think that Joe Pavelski should be on that [All-Rookie] team. I think in terms of All-WCHA, Bernd Bruckler deserves to be on that team. And in his play over the last six weeks, I would say Tommy Gilbert, and Robbie Earl would be on that team as well.

"Tommy Gilbert, it's been funny how we talked about, his teammates talk about him and the coaching staff, that given more ice time how he's taken the reigns and just run with it. And he's become, he's become the player that we saw at moments earlier, but now that he's playing almost 30 minutes a game, he's playing at a level that we only saw once in a while. He's playing all the time. And I don't know if people around the league will be in tune with that, which is a shame. That'll be part of our job as a coaching staff to sound that trumpet. But he's been most deserving."

This is kind of uncharted territory for him. Is there any concern of the wear and tear that he's building up right now going into the playoffs? That's the flip side of this coin.

"It's interesting talking to his teammates about Tommy, like he goes home and, you know, they know how much he's playing. They say, 'Tommy, sit down, relax.' He's just going. He's loving it. If anything, it's energized him. So I think maybe he's discovering something about his own physical capabilities by going through this process. And it's funny. As all coaches know, that when you're in the midst of something and there's a pony that wants to run, you let the reigns out and let him go."

Mike, Duluth was picked as a pre-season favorite to win the conference this year. How surprised are you by what's transpired this season for them right now in sixth place in the conference?

"Well, a wee bit surprised. Not having coached a college team that's had a lot of seniors, I don't know if that's a whole other chapter in the book of a college coach, because it's like they've been here four years and they know the ropes and they know the rinks, and some of the excitement is gone and they kind of go through the motions and they think they're going to click it on and off. I don't know if that's gone on up there. I would have to talk to a coach that's coached longer at this level. But that could be one of the things that's going on.

The scary thing for myself and our staff is the fact that, okay, what if they do get the switch going here, because they can be as tough as anybody in our league. And that's our concern, are they revving it up right now. And going into their barn, we're going to have to be ready for that."

Mike, how close is Matt Ford to 100 percent? I mean, he's been playing, but it seems like he's still missing a little bit.

"Yeah, he's not where he was before he got hurt again. His condition and he's just got to, we've got to build him back up to that point. That's why he played in a limited role this weekend, trying to keep him involved, keep him in the feeling of the game, but his conditioning is something that he needs to work on."

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