Equating the preparation to building a fire, Eaves commented that a successful team gathers the wood and tinder so that when it's time to go out and play, UW can symbolically drop a match into the fire and erupt.
When the smoke had cleared Friday night, the No.10 Wisconsin Badgers were left holding two useless sticks and a dumbfounded look strewn across their faces.
For two teams so evenly matched in scoring offense, defense and personal on ice, visiting Minnesota State came out clicking on all cylinders and overwhelmed the host Badgers, blasting 17 of their 28 shots on goal in the opening period and were in control from beginning to end, shutout Wisconsin in Madison 3-0.
Winners of six consecutive games and were 12-4-3 in their 19 games, No.13 Minnesota State (16-10-4, 10-9-4 WCHA) had engineered its longest winning streak in over a decade that was based on hard-nosed defense and relentless energy that punishes any opponent not prepare to match them.
With Wisconsin struggling to find a fire pit, the Badgers stood no chance to generate a spark, especially on the power play, where UW got off only five shots in five chances.
"Our team did not gather the wood, the twigs and get the big logs," Eaves said. "As a result, we were scrambling around to build a fire as the game went along."
The unpreparedness was a surprise for Wisconsin, who has gone 5-1-3 in its last nine games, including a three-point weekend during Michigan Tech's Winter Carnival. Throw in the fact that the Badgers were 10-3-1 at home lifetime against the Mavericks and Wisconsin fans were sure to have good feelings about this weekend for a team battling for the post season.
The result was Wisconsin falling down to fifth place in the conference and a humbling tie for 14th in the all-important PairWise standings (a system that mimic the NCAA tournament selection process).
"We had been playing some pretty good hockey lately, so it's a surprise that we weren't ready," assistant captain Kyle Klubertanz said. "We'll be ready for tomorrow."
Comparing the two programs would seem challenging, especially since the Badgers have been known as a stout defensive team under Mike Eaves and the Mavericks for bringing consistent intensity and energy on both ends of the ice.
But in the WCHA ranks, the two teams find themselves having nearly identical numbers in various categories, which is why a 3-0 shutout was the furthest thing from Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting's mind.
"We're a real similar team to Wisconsin," Jutting admitted. "We're both really young hockey teams and the numbers – goals, goals against, record – are nearly identical and the way play too is similar. A couple of bounces was the difference tonight."
To be honest, it was more than a couple of bounces that propelled Minnesota State to sole possession of fourth place in the conference.
Using host Wisconsin (13-12-6, 9-10-4 WCHA) as somewhat of a role model in terms of team defense, Minnesota State brought the usual intensity, but coupled it with Badger-esk defense.
The Mavericks out blocked Wisconsin, a trademark of UW, 9-2 in the first period and 14-13 for the game, limited UW to minimal grade-A scoring chances and use goalie Mike Zacharias to pick up any leftover pieces, as the junior stopped all 32 shots he faced.
"We go out there and do what we are expected to do from us," Zacharias said. "We've played really good hockey down the stretch. Wisconsin has always been a defensive team and we have really concentrated on that this year."
Beginning the game with a cleaning skated first nine minutes, the penalties starting pouring in with all of them falling on the shoulders of the home team.
In a 53-second span, head referee Derek Shepherd whistled captain Davis Drewiske for a two-minute tripping minor, a 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct major on Podge Turnbull and a two-minute cross checking violation on assistant captain Kyle Klubertanz.
Suddenly, the third-worse penalty killing team in the conference was forced to kill off a 5-on-3.
Just 11 seconds into the two-man advantage, the Mavericks made the Badgers pay, when forward Mick Berge fired a shot from the right face-off circle. UW goalie Shane Connelly stopped the initial shot, but the rebound squirted away. Falling down to get the rebound, the puck was left uncontested for MSU's Kael Mouilloerat, who buried the puck into the net to give MSU a 1-0 lead.
The stats of the end of the first period foreshadowed the rest of the night with the visitors out shooting Wisconsin 17-9.
"We just wanted it more tonight and the shots on goal showed it," Zacharias said. We came out with more fire and it continued to carry over."
Life didn't fair any better for the Badgers in the second stanza either, especially for Connelly, as the junior goalie saw two of State's six second-period shots find the back of the net.
The first second-period goal came off a shot from between the circles. Connelly made the initial stop, but could not corral the puck, juggling it between his chest and his glove. Center Zach Harrison took advantage of the opportunity, throwing his stick at Connelly and the bobbling puck, catching a piece to knock it free from Connelly and into the back of the net to double the lead.
Three minutes later, forward Geoff Irwin intercepted a pass that hoped over UW defenseman Kyle Klubertanz's stick at the blue line, allowing Irwin go the distance, beating Connelly for goal number three.
In retrospect, it was Connelly's own defenseman, Cody Goloubef, that admitted that it was his stick that deflected the second goal in, summing up the night for the Badgers.
"It was kind of the way the bounces were going for us tonight," Connelly said. "That goal was a killer and it was a fluke goal."
Whether it has been a Friday night funk in which the Badgers have played subpar the last four series openers or being forced to spend two extra days grounded in Houghton, Michigan because of blizzard condition took its toll, Wisconsin failed to bring that fire that had earned them points in eight of the last nine games.v "I look at my guys and I can't for the life of me figure out where they went," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "Our young people did not prepare themselves to go out for battle."