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Mike, if I recall correctly, you guys did a pretty good job defensively against Sterling and Sertich last year from CC. What were the keys to that and obviously your guys are all back and can take some experience from that and hopefully apply it again this year, I would imagine?
"Well, I think a part of that is the fact that who we have on the ice and how you match up. And both from an offense to the defensive side of the puck, you want to make sure that you have people that can play with the puck, because when you have possession of the puck, that means they don't have it. And they're more accustomed playing with the puck, so if you can match up with people that can handle the puck and play with the puck, that takes it out of their hands and that's an advantage for yourself."
Mike, given that they're ranked No. 1, this might seem like a foolish question, but is this series more than just holding serve at home and getting the points you need in the standings or is it larger than that?
"Well, it's an early season measuring stick, and we just, you know, it's funny. You take a look at the rankings and the standings and, I mean, it's throwing darts at a dartboard and seeing where you land a lot of times. But things are now starting to formulate a little bit, but I think it's just an early season measuring stick, as last week was for us.
"We got a little measuring stick at that time and this will be another one. The true measure will come after Christmas when teams have been rolling and they're in a rhythm and they know who their personnel is and who plays with who well. Right now I think everybody is still going through the process of finding those kind of things out."
Even though it is just an early season measuring stick, as you say, is this, as well as your team has played going into what is a big series at least on paper by rankings-wise, as you look back over the last couple years?
"Well, we played well this weekend. There's no question. I think even the Saturday night in St. Cloud we started to play to the level that we wanted to play at in terms of who we are, our identity as a team, and we've carried that forth here through the next, you know, two weekends. And we just need to keep pounding those kind of habits into the way we play so that it becomes consistent so that when we go out to play, this is who we are, it's second nature.
"The way we practice, the way we play is just a habit. In the middle of the third period, even though we're tired, we still play to the habits that we have created over the course of the games that we've played. So it's, you know, this series represents another opportunity for us to kind of establish what kind of habits we want to have at the end of the year."
How comforting is it to you that Brian Elliott has to date been able to answer a lot of the questions that were out there about him, you know, as far as can he play every night, is he going to be an all-league-caliber kind of goalie, that he's playing pretty well so far?
"I think if you were to talk to Brian Elliott's teammates even last year, I mean, Brian Elliott didn't play a lot last year because of the fact he had an All-American goalie in front of him. But if you had talked to his teammates then, they would have told you that he's a very fine young goaltender. So a lot of the questions came from people that weren't at practice every day and never shot against him.
"The one question we had as coaches was the fact, you know, how long will it take it for him to be able to play back-to-back games and feel comfortable. But even that, saying that, I know that the type of personality that Brian is, very, very levelheaded, very detailed, very organized in his approach to the game, not like some of the goaltenders that I used to play with and against that were flaky.
"And because of that fact he's, you know what, he might not have such a big adjustment period. As a matter of fact, heck, if you hadn't known he hadn't played back-to-back games in a long time, you wouldn't have guessed it based on his performance so far."
Mike, is this a pretty grounded team, where a big sweep like you had against North Dakota doesn't affect them, they know they've got to continue to work and get better?
"I think so. I think that speaks to the fact that, you know, it's an upperclassmen team. Last weekend, having the opportunity to win up there was I think just satisfying for the seniors. I mean, they were there the first year when we got spanked and the fact that they went in there, it wasn't like, you know, a bunch of giddy kids.
"It was like, you know, we deserve this, we've paid dues to get this. This is our fourth year and we hadn't won up there, and they've come through the whole process of working to get to that point to be able to win up there. And so I think being satisfied is more of the way that they're looking at it and looking forward to the next step."
Flakiest goaltender you either faced, coached, saw, don't have to name a name, but what made them flaky?
"Well, I can name names. Robbie Moore from Michigan and probably Mike Dibble, and Julian Baretta. I could go on. But, you know, they're just, they just have personality, if you want to call it. They were just, they got themselves to do rituals that, you know, instead of just having a routine that you go through, they had these wacko rituals, superstitions that they would do.
"You know, Julian backing into the net. He had to drive to the rink a certain way, have a hamburger that he would throw up after the first period anyway. I mean, you know, after awhile, don't you ask yourself what am I doing. You know, but if you are winning you just keep going with it. So Robbie Moore used to sit on his net in between the whistles and, you know, kick his legs, get the crowd going, and that, he said that seemed to relax him. Well, that ain't normal either. But, you know, I guess it's your definition of normal. Mine just doesn't happen to be what those guys' are."
A lot of attention last year and the beginning of this year was asked about the power play and why wasn't it clicking at a higher rate. It seems to be doing so now. Is it as simple as saying time, talent, what's the reason that the power play seems to be doing better each week?
"Combination. It's always a combination. You know, we've talked about the offensive numbers here at Wisconsin since we came in, and people outside of our immediate coaching staff are always saying, well, this team is defensive, they coach defense. We use the same system here that we used in the national team development program where we had very talented people and nothing has changed other than the personnel and the abilities that they have.
"And so right now our numbers are going up because we've been able to recruit and get kids who had that innate ability and those moments of truth that you can't teach. And because of that fact, you know, the numbers are going to go up and they continue to go up because of that ability that they bring. So it's a combination of those kids coming in with that innate ability and working together and everybody being on the same page, trying to get the same thing done."
It seems like your coaching staff has been able to mesh well, even considering that Kevin Patrick came in at a sort of late date to the process. How important has that been to everything this season to have the coaching staff, even though it's, you know, there's a new guy in there, be on the same page right away?
"Well, I think it was a real blessing, if I can use that word, that things mixed right away very well. And I think that factor goes to compliments of Mark Osiecki, the fact that he knew K.P. He knew Kevin Patrick coming in here. They had worked before, so it wasn't like they had to get to know each other from square one.
"When they came together, they hit the ground running. And because they both knew the landscape of recruiting, they were able to really get going in that aspect. And so that's, I think that we were able to move maybe further down the learning curve in terms of each other and our coaching staff because of that fact and have been able to really make strides."
Mike, you mentioned the reaction, that they were more satisfied up at North Dakota. Were you encouraged to see that reaction, and is that a necessary ingredient for a team to be consistent over the length of a season?
"It's a maturation issue. I think that when you're around sports long enough, you know, the ultimate goal is to win the last game of the year. And when you've done that, then it's more than satisfying.
"But even then, in personal experience, to be able, we use the analogy of trying to climb to the top of the mountain and Mt. Everest is the one that we use just because it's the tallest, and to be able to put that flag at the top of the mountain is just, you've worked so hard to get there, to have that moment to put it on the top of the mountain is just very satisfying. So I think it speaks to the maturation, the fact that we're an upperclassmen team and they recognize they've still got a long way to go."