After a sluggish outing that cost his team a victory on Friday night, Wisconsin saw a three goal, third period lead evaporate into a 6-5 overtime loss, sending UW to its first home sweep of the season.
"You know how you have a nightmare sometimes?" Eaves questioned. "You wake up and you think, thank goodness that was a nightmare. Well, I woke and think, geez, I wish that was a dream. But reality was it wasn't a dream."
Wisconsin has little time to sulk about its lost opportunity, as the Badgers jump right back into WCHA conference action on the road against Alaska Anchorage this Friday and Saturday. Despite maintaining focus on the key conference series, the Badgers know they have to regroup after blowing a 5-2 lead in the final 10 minutes of Saturday's shocking loss to the Wildcats.
Now 0-2-1 in their last three games against sub-.500 teams, the Badgers can draw some comparisons from the start of the season, where Wisconsin started 0-6-1, to find itself back on the right track.
"When we went back and looked at those goals in the third period with less than 10 minutes to go, in every goal, a forward could have done something better, a defenseman could have done something better, and our last line of defense, our goaltender, could have been a little bit better," Eaves said. "We could talk about the beginning of the year and go back and how we gave up leads and what we need to do better, and we're going to be honest with our team, and show them that we need to watch those things and get better, and that's how we're going to move forward."
One of the losing components from Saturday's third period was senior goalie Shane Connelly, who stopped only seven of the 10 shots he faced in the final period and was mildly criticized by Eaves after the game for his performance. According to Eaves, whichever goalie, Connelly or sophomore Scott Gudmandson, has a better week of practice will start the opener tonight.
UW also will be without sophomore Brendan Smith, who scored two first period goals Saturday before injuring his right wrist, for at least this weekend. However, UW's defense core should get a much-needed boost when sophomore Cody Goloubef, fresh off winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, will rejoin the team, along with forward Ryan McDonagh, in Anchorage for the series.
"It's going to mean a lot," Eaves said about the two men coming back after a four game absence. "We've got a lot of responsibility we put some young freshmen over the course of these four games, and now that you lose Smith, it's really important that those young men get back into our lineup and solidify the blue line for us."
The Badgers (10-9-3) will be looking to continue its recent success against the Seawolves (7-7-2), as UW is 14-2-1 in the last 17 games against Alaska Anchorage. UAA has had plenty of time to rest and think about UW's sweep over UAA on December 5-6 in Madison, as the Seawolves haven't played a game since its visit to Madison.
Not only will the Badgers have to deal with an angry team, Wisconsin will have to adjust to the vastly different environment. Making the lengthy plane flight and having to deal with the limited hours of daylight, history has told the Badgers that the sooner they leave for the Arctic Circle, the sooner they get acquainted with the surroundings.
"I think one of the reasons that we go up Wednesday is because history has told us that it's been a pretty good course for us to take, to get up there, adapt, and then play," Eaves said. "Based on that, we decided to keep doing the same thing (because) I think going up a day early does help. It gives us an extra chance to adapt."
Although the Badgers lost the final two games on their lengthy home stand, Eaves is still convinced that, after the Badgers spent five of the first seven weeks of the season on the road, Wisconsin did a lot of good things to prepare itself for the second half of the season. The key now is that Wisconsin has to use the success from its home stand and earn some wins on the road.
"Well, not when you take a look at the wins, loss and ties column, but in terms of how we played, it wasn't totally negative," Eaves said of the time at home. "Although we're going to go look at the things that we could have done better, boy, we did a lot of good things, we really did, and we're going to build on those things."
No.17 Wisconsin (10-9-3, 7-5-2 WCHA) vs. Alaska Anchorage (7-7-2, 4-6-2 WCHA)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, Jan. 9-10 at 10 p.m. CT
Arena – Sullivan Arena (15,237) - 200' x 100'
Television - None
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)
Series – Wisconsin leads 40-13-9 (16-6-6 in Anchorage)
Last Meeting – The Badgers won 7-2 on Dec. 6, 2008 at the Kohl Center to complete a two-game sweep.
The Badgers swept UAA at the Kohl Center on Dec. 5-6, which is the last time the Seawolves have played a game. The Badgers have played four games since that series
The UW is the only school to sweep UAA this season. The Badgers are 5-0-1 against UAA in the last six games, 9-1-1 in the last 11 contests and 14-2-1 over the last 17 games dating back to Nov. 19, 2004
UW sophomore defenseman Craig Johnson skated two years in the NAHL in Wasilla and Fairbanks, Alaska while UAA sophomore forward Sean Wiles is from Beloit, Wis.
The Badgers currently sit in a third-place tie in the WCHA standings at 7-5-2 and with 16 points. The UW sits tied with Colorado College, three points out of first place. There are four league teams that have played only 12 games including second-place Minnesota (17 points) and sixth-place North Dakota (13 points).
Wisconsin has won three consecutive WCHA games and is 7-1-1 over its last nine league contests.
The Badgers skate on the road for the first time since Nov. 22 at Minnesota Duluth, a span of eight games. The Badgers are 3-1-1 over their last five road contests.
After this weekend's road series for the Badgers, Wisconsin will finish the season with eight of its last 12 games at the Kohl Center.