Monday press conference: Mike Eaves

Eaves discusses the upcoming Badger Hockey Showdown and his team's power play

Mike, the last couple weeks you've talked about how the power play has been close to coming through and getting to another level. From a broader perspective, can you see a couple forwards that are close to individually breaking through and making a bigger impact than they have as you start the second half here?

"Well, I don't know if you have anybody in mind, Todd, when you bring that up, but I think that all of our players when we sat down and had our individual meetings all felt that their numbers could be better, as all players do. I think that getting the first half done with now and coming back, when you think about things that you want to talk to your team about the second half and the experience that we've had here is that, it's the second half and the volume gets turned up. Teams know what they have. Every game is a little tougher. Teams have their systems in play, their bodies are used to getting banged around again and it's almost like playoff hockey in the second half. And then you turn it up another notch or two on the volume dial when the playoffs happen.

"I think in terms of offense, as we've talked about, I think that everybody wants to have better numbers in the second half. I think that will be a tougher task because teams will be tougher to play against. But as Lisa was talking about too, defense is such a vital part of winning. You take a look at our offensive numbers and we've done pretty well on our power play and we feel it could be better. Our numbers in our league, we're the second-best offensive team in the league. That's pretty good. In retrospect, even at a B-, that's pretty good. You didn't think I read your article, did you? You're a pretty tough grader in that aspect, but I respect that. Hard teachers, they make you better.

"You talk to any coach in any sport and you talk to Lisa about offense or Bo about offense, why some nights are you knocking down 3-pointers and some nights you're not? It has its own life and there's a flow and ebb. If I'm here for 20 years, we'll talk about this for 20 years, the flow and ebb of offense. I just like the things that our guys are doing with the puck in terms of creating scoring chances. As a coach, that's what you look for. You can't control that a goalie is playing unbelievable or that shots are hitting the post and going in or not going in. Those are factors. But if you're creating scoring chances, then I think that's a good thing."

Knowing the success that your teams have had the last three years in the first half, is there anything in particular that you might revert to to hope that you can get the same results in the second half this season?

" Well, it's interesting to look at the records in the second half. We've been above .500 but I think if you went back and checked every team in the second half, I don't think you're going to find a team that's winning at an .800 percentage clip. And that's again because the second half teams are playing better. There are no surprises. You know the system. The other team knows your system as well as you do. So the records in the second half are pretty close to being right around .500 for your top-level teams.

I think the one thing we've already seen this year is the fact that, it's interesting to listen to Lisa go through some of her strife right now and getting her team to play the way she wants it, it sounds like us a couple years ago. She's got a young team and they're going to be fine. But, like last year when we went through the second half, we went into some tough buildings and we could hardly get goals. We could hardly get wins and yet we played pretty good. They were one-goal games that it was a disallowed goal in North Dakota or a couple pipes against North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five. But now we're an older team.

"I think it's interesting to hear some of the Canadian boys talk about the Olympics and being on that team when they won, being around guys like (Mario) Lemieux and (Steve) Yzerman. When they were in tight games, nobody panicked, nobody squeezed their stick harder. They'd been there before. I think there's that essence of calm that we have now because we went through some tough times last year, the five series at the end of the year were all difficult and yet we come back. I think those experiences helped our team in the first half. In tight games, it was Adam Burish and Jake Dowell and Jeff Likens saying ‘hey, we've been here before boys, we'll get it done.' So I think that's something that will serve us well in the second half of the season.

"And it's also as I looked today about how we get this momentum back coming into this week, and I'm excited because I have a couple new ideas. Now will they work? Time will tell, but it will give us an experiment, see if we can get that momentum back by trying these things in this week coming up."

Lisa was just talking about the rust versus rest when a team is coming back from break, what will you be looking for in your team to see in those first practices, that first game, that they've come back to play relaxed and refreshed and not rusty?

"Well that's the challenge. Usually when you come back from a break, you want to get the rust off by getting everybody the puck on their stick and getting some skill drills and some flow going up the ice. But I think the experiment lies in the fact, let's see if during the course of our practices as we're doing skill drills, let's put our players in small area games and have them play to remind them of what they need to do in a very short time here. We don't have the luxury of having four or five days of practice, we've got to play here relatively quick. Let's put ourselves immediately in situations where we're playing and see if that will help us get back to that game pace right away."

Not to diminish the teams that are in this field this weekend, but is it difficult to find teams to play in this tournament, or any tournament, I would assume, because it seems like everybody's playing in a holiday tournament these days?

"It is more difficult every year to get teams because of the number of tournaments that are out there and the commitments already set up. I'm excited about these guys coming in. Western Michigan has beat Ohio State and Northern Michigan is always a feisty team. We're going to be challenged right away, which is good. I think when players look at that and they know those things, that will get them excited."

If I'm recalling correctly, this is the first one of your goals that you'll be meeting face-to-face in a one weekend situation. Do you expect your guys to realize that, to take that in their own minds and come out with a little bit more intensity because this has been one of their goals that was stated at the start of the season, to win this tournament?

"Well, it came from the players. It's an intermediate goal. I don't want to overstate that to be something that it isn't, but because of the fact that we talked about it, it's one of the things that they brought up. They've been in this tournament where they haven't won and it is in our barn. Let's make it one of our goals. Let's make a conscious effort to go out and really win this thing. Let's be winners. What does it feel like at the end of a tournament to carry around the trophy and those kinds of things. Let's get that in our repertoire right now."

While you say it's one of your intermediate goals, memory serves me that you haven't won this tournament since it moved to the Kohl Center. How important is it for your team to win this tournament, maybe not so much for just the momentum's sake of the team, but for the health of the tournament and all the things that come with that in the long term?

"Well it's always healthy to win your own tournament from the standpoint of the fans. I think that teams will always want to come to Madison because it is Madison. I think the most important thing is it's a dress rehearsal for what you'd eventually like to do down the line. I take a look at our boys, the fact that they had the Beanpot tournament and how important it is to win that thing and what that means to be the champion of that. That's the kind of feeling that we want to create, that tradition of ‘hey, this is our tournament, let's win this thing regularly because it is ours.'"

Mike, the field is set for next year's Showdown as well. Is there a future for this tournament beyond next year?

"I believe so. I believe the administration as well as the coaching staff has said if we're going to do this, let's do it right. Let's do it right both off and on the ice to make this happen. It's important to have these games because of the fact that it gets you set up for the second half and to have a tournament where it means something, where you make it mean something, are both important."

Is the fact that there are, I think, nine tournaments this year, is that just part of the growing of college hockey? You see that where even smaller schools have their own tournaments where there's interest from everyone in building up the game where you can have these kinds of tournaments even in small buildings as well as a 15,000-seat arena like this.

"I think there are several reasons. I think the excitement of college hockey is there. I think financially for schools it's a good thing. I know that's the reason that we moved back here from Milwaukee, because we have to take care of our own house first here. We've got a great building here, let's utilize it. There are several reasons, but the popularity of college hockey and the fact that even a small rink, that's income coming into your own pockets are important factors."


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