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Mike, you said on Saturday the volume gets turned up in the playoffs. Is it your experience that the teams that handle the playoffs best are the ones that maybe have the best earplugs, that can tune that out and still play the same kind of level of game that they normally play in a regular season and just apply it to a playoff-type atmosphere?
"No. I don't want earplugs in their ears. I want them to relish that, because unless you relish it, having earplugs is a false way to play. You've got to be able to play at a higher level and I don't think earplugs are going to do any good. I want earplugs out. I want boys turning, I want our guys turning the volume up. That probably would be a better way to answer that question. If Michigan Tech chooses to use earplugs then that's fine, but I want our guys turning up the volume here."
Do you think they started to turn it up this weekend a little bit?
"A little bit from where we were, Brian. I still think we're in the process of getting back that momentum, using an analogy that we were a little, we weren't feeling very well. We're still getting better, and that's why I think this week is really important for us. I think this weekend could be another step in us getting back to playing even closer to where we were before Brian's injury and, you know, and having that confidence and that feeling from within. So this is a big weekend for several reasons."
Early goals have been a, you saw it Saturday night, how important they can be. You scored in the first minute. I think 10 times you scored in the first four minutes of a game this season. How does that change the tone of a game and dictate it to the way you guys want to play it? How important is that to doing that?
"Well, we have a sign in our locker room before we go out for games, ‘great start', and it's part of who we are. And the seniors have heard that since their first year here. Not only do they see that, but they know the statistical evidence that proves the teams that score first are perhaps more likely to win games. It helps get the crowd into it right away. So there's multiple reasons why that is such an important factor in a game. And that's who we want to be, and we've done a pretty good job this year so far with that."
Your defensive corps has another challenge this week without Joe in the lineup, and their depth is tested, that they seemed like they'd be okay with that challenge and be able to rise up with that and accept it as a challenge, I guess.
"Well, I think a little bit, and shame on me for Saturday night not speaking to the job that Josh Engel did. I mean, he hasn't played in a long time, and he jumped in and he did very well. Looking at video yesterday, and even more so than that, we've talked about the fact when you can go up to a defenseman after a game and say, ‘you know what, I didn't notice you, you've done your job well. And Josh did a lot of very good things for not ‘being in the lineup.
"The funny thing is, you know, he probably had his best week of practice last week, and he was hard, he was doing the right things. And we had even toyed about the fact here of maybe trying to get him in a game this weekend because of a depth factor and keeping him sharp. Unfortunately it happened because of an injury to Joe, but Josh did a fine job. And I think that he showed that he's ready to step in and play."
Mike, knock on wood, but if another defenseman goes down, what's a backup plan?
"Well, I might give you a call one night and see if you can, no? No."
No, not me.
"Mark, you got any eligibility left? I don't know. I know that the one guy we'd probably go to is Andrew Joudrey and, you know, he's hurt right now. Andy Brandt has been taking some reps in practice as a defenseman. So, you know, one of the things that you do, I know in the minor leagues when you're coaching, a lot of times, you know, you play with four, five defensemen because that's all you've got healthy. So if you need to, you could drop to those numbers."
Michigan Tech is a team that has given you some fits along the line. You shut them out twice, but a couple of other games, they took it to you. Just I guess from just a scouting report on what Badger fans will see from Tech when they come to town.
"Well, they can be sneaky and I think it's a mindset that we have to have in and perhaps, you know, even though we lost to them at home this year and broke that 14-game winning streak, that, in fact, could be, you know, a message to us, look, gentlemen, unless you're ready to play, these young men could come in.
"Mr. (Chris) Conner is one of the most dangerous offensive players, and they've got guys that will play hard. A lot of it will depend on their goaltending in terms of what level they play at. But I think that the fact that we gave up some points against them this year is an indicator that we'd better be ready to play or else we're going to be caught again."
Coach, will you change the way that you game plan for them, especially after that 4-4 tie you had a few weeks ago?
"I don't think we'll change anything the way we plan for them, in the fact that we did a lot of good things up there. We played pretty hard. We fired a lot of pucks at their goaltenders, which is something we want to do. And I think more importantly, let's go back to talk about the fact that we're still in that process of getting better and turning the boat around and having the wind in our sails.
"And I think those are huge factors right now because I think the guys recognize that we are getting better and we've got something really special coming up to play for. And we'll take this weekend here, this weekend alone, and see if we can even get back to where we were to a higher degree."
Mike, you guys are going to break the NCAA attendance record for single-game average. What does that do for your program in terms of health of the program and, you know, projecting that for recruiting and, you know, using that as a tool to get people in here?
"Well, it's a huge recruiting factor because, A, young people would like to play for a contender. B, they want to play in a building that's exciting. And those are two things that have continued to grow here as we move forward in time, so that's a big factor, the recruiting factor and being able to state that, you know, we have the highest average attendance and what a great building it is to play in. The other thing that it does is that for our guys, they become a factor in a game. We can feed off the energy that they give us."
Is it time maybe in the development of the program for this team to make a run, be a factor in the WCHA or NCAA tournaments?
"Well, Tom, it's interesting how we ourselves as a coaching staff will look at each year and see what kind of things we could have done better. We take a look at last year, and the second half of the year, we didn't have the numbers of the first half. So we thought we'd done a real intelligent job, prudent job in making some changes to help our guys be fresher here going down to the second half.
"How do you account for injuries and those kind of things? You lose a key piece of your machinery in terms of your goaltender and people are still saying, well, jeez, you know, it's the same old, same old. Well, that's a different scenario and you can't count on those things.
"I would like to think that we're in a position that as we get Brian healthy here and hopefully we get Andrew Joudrey back and we'll see if Mr. Piskula can heal quickly, that those would all be key factors in us, as you put it, for making a statement here and running for it. "But as much as we control, we try to control what we can. There are factors outside of us. And you will talk to any coach about that and trying to peak at the right time, and sometimes that's that flow of sports, that flow of life that you can't control. I sure hope that we're stepping into that good side of the flow again and we can make a run at this."
Joe Pavelski finishes fourth in the league race, scoring race. Is that kind of where you see him as far as in a league perspective, he is definitely one of the top scorers in this league, a pretty easy statement to make that way, and he fits into that category?
"Joe is a gifted offensive player. It's interesting to talk about Joe because you would never put him and say that Joe is a fast skater. But he's intelligent and he has skill. And one of the good things that Joe does is he utilizes the people that he plays with. He makes the people around him better, and the people that he's been playing with this year make him better as well.
"The reason that he's fourth in the league, because he plays with a couple guys on his lines that help him be productive and he helps them be productive. So if you ever talked to Joe, he'd say the same things I have, the success I have because of the people that I play with."
You mentioned before the evaluation that happens at the end of each season and looking back on it. Do you think that applies to you as a coach and your coaching staff as well, and do think you're better prepared or in a better spot this year as opposed to years past for that turn-up-the-volume stage, as you described it here in the postseason?
"Well, we start with ourselves. At the end of the year, we start with ourselves as a staff, where could we improve, what was our mindset. And there's no question, hopefully that's one of the tradeoffs of getting older, is you get wiser and you take time to sit back and take a look at where you've been and what you've done and what you would do different in order to give your team a chance to be better when it counts."