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Mike, could you, from an insider perspective, could you compare this unbeaten streak you're on now to the one you had two years ago? I mean, that one two years ago was key in building to, you know, the point that you got to at the NCAA tournament. What is this one building as far as leadership and consistency and those kind of things?
"Well, I hadn't thought about the two different streaks, to be real honest with you. Right off the top of my head, I would think that the one a couple years ago was more of a surprise than this one would be now because of the fact that we're into our fourth year. We know our players better. We know what we have. We have more of the guys that we have brought in at this time. So the big difference was the first one was probably a little bit more of a surprise than this one right now."
You've had other big series sweeps before in your time here, but given all the different numbers and streaks and things that we're talking about, where does this past weekend rank for you in terms of significance with this sweep at Minnesota?
"This significance of this past weekend was for our seniors. Very similar to what we talked about with North Dakota, when we hadn't won up there in our tenure here. When these young men, when our seniors were freshmen and went up there and got spanked, very similar. We talked about a story, when we played up in Minneapolis when our seniors were freshmen, and halfway through the period we were getting beat 7, 8-1, and we called a timeout.
"We brought the guys in and we said, ‘I want you to listen to this noise', and it was deafening. And we said that ‘This summer when you're training and you're tired and you're hurt, you remember this noise and you push yourself a little further so this never happens again.'
"So for those guys it was at the other end of the spectrum to win on the road in Minneapolis and shut them out. And I didn't recognize, as Mark Osiecki said, at the 10-minute point of the third period when there was a whistle, people were leaving the building, and that doesn't happen there very much. So for those young men that experienced that when they were freshmen, to have that happen when they were seniors, the circle becomes complete."
Mike, people always talk about teams as being a reflection of their coach. To what degree is this team a reflection of its upperclassmen, its seniors?
"A very close reflection. I think that we're at a point, and we talked about this a little bit after the game on Saturday, is the fact that right now, I think the ultimate leadership is when the coaches aren't around and your upperclassmen, your seniors, your captains are taking charge, and that's where this group is at right now. And ultimately, that's what we've been pushing for since we got here.
"Since we got here we have tried to educate these young men that in the middle of the third period, you gentlemen win the games by the habits you build through practice and what you do all year long. And it's at that point now where it's their team, truly is their team, and that's the way it needs to be in order for them to be successful on the ice."
Is it more of a hands-off approach on the bench? Not just in between periods, but when you're behind the bench and during periods, are you able to just kind of let them figure things out for themselves and . . .
"Oh, there are moments that we still teach, you know, especially with the younger kids. I still think that you need to go down and give them feedback. At one point this past weekend, I sat next to Robbie Earl on the bench and, you know, he didn't seem to have a spark. I said, ‘Are you okay,' you know, and he said, ‘No, I'm just taking a breather here.' You know, you've got to stay in touch. You know, it's getting a feel for where they're at and what they need. Sometimes you just need to step in and give them a word of encouragement or make an adjustment and go from there."
You would look at, the way you're talking about your upperclassmen, the way you talk about your captains, you seem confident that they're not going to allow something, a downshift this weekend. This would seem to be a classic moment for that to happen given where things are, who's coming in, that type of thing. Any concerns at all?
"Always a concern. And that's our challenge this weekend, is to meet that challenge and make sure that we don't slip. I mean, quite honestly, emotionally where we are when we play Minnesota is a natural, it's there naturally. And we need to draw on our experience that we had against Mankato [Minnesota] State.
"We talked about are we going to build a fire during the course of this week so that Friday night comes along, we throw the match in it, or are we going to have to scramble around Friday after the first period and try to start building that darn thing. So, you know, we just had lunch with the captains and talked about that, it's at a level of awareness, and hopefully they learned a lesson from Mankato and make sure that that doesn't happen again."
Mike, can you talk about what Jack Skille will bring to that World Junior team, just from his experience at that level with the development program, but what can he, what kind of presence can he provide?
"Well, he's played on an international stage before and so that's a huge thing. A lot of kids haven't done that, and I think the different styles, every country will bring a different style, from Canada to Slovakia to Finland. They all play a different way. And so he intuitively knows what that is, and that's part of the beauty of that program, is most of the kids on that team will have played international hockey and they bring that.
"And I think the other thing that Jack will bring is that, his speed, his size. You know, they'll be playing up in Canada where the rinks are smaller. And he's not afraid to go in the corners and he can skate and do a lot of things, so I think he's going to be a key factor for them."
Mike, do you expect (goaltending coach) Bill (Howard) to recommend that you play Shane (Connelly) this weekend?
"You know what? We've been talking about it, looking for, I've actually been waiting for a nod from Bill to say, you know what, this young man is ready and he's getting closer, and I know that's, in my mind, this weekend would be an opportunity for him to play because he's ready, not because of who we're playing, but because he is ready to play.
"In practice he's getting, he's gotten the reps that he needs to play the way that Bill would like him to play. He thinks he's got enough that he can go out in the game and now they are a part of who he is in terms of the way he plays. So we certainly would want to get him in here this weekend. I'm not sure which night."