Wisconsin's health near 100 percent

Enjoying its second bye week in the past month, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves talks about the defense core (and the return of Brendan Smith), his team's rise to the top of the WCHA and some challenges first place Denver will bring to the Kohl Center this weekend.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves -

full transcript

QUESTION #1: Mike, how relevant are the events of your previous series? So much has changed. Your team has changed. Their team has changed. Do you even look back at that for reference and, if you do, to what degree?

MIKE EAVES: We do look at it at all. I mean, that was so long ago, and in terms of how they're playing, you always go back to the weekend that you play, or they play before coming in to see you. So they played at CC this weekend, so we take a look at that game in terms of what we need to get from a pre-scout standpoint.

QUESTION #2: Coach, you talked before the weekend that Brendan was going to be back this weekend. Is that still on schedule for that?

EAVES: Still on schedule. We expect him out there in a regular color today. Get that gaudy green off of him and get him in a red and white or black for the defensemen and have him go at it full boar today. So that's the next step for him.

QUESTION #3: If on October 31st, walking out of Engelstad Arena, if somebody had come up to you and said, that night after the 3-2 loss, that you'd be playing four months later, two of the top teams in the WCHA going into this series, what would your response have been at that time, at that time being 0-6-1?

EAVES: Hopeful is a word that comes to mind. But at that time, we weren't a very good hockey team. We were struggling in many areas, trying to find our identity. And since that time, we've been able to do that, which has caused a turnaround and where we find ourselves where we are now. But at that time, if somebody would have said that, I would have said they would have been hopeful in that thinking.

QUESTION #4: A couple of weeks, I think the Michigan Tech series was the first weekend that you changed your defensive pairs. You put Jamie with Brendan and Cody with Ryan. Why, that seems to have really had an impact on your team, and I'm curious why you did that.

EAVES: Well, it was a long time ago. In looking back, because of maybe the, perhaps the way we were playing dictated that we look at different combinations. I know from a forward line standpoint, we haven't tinkered in awhile, but, because we've been successful, and at that time, I'm sure we were perhaps not happy with what we were seeing on the ice and that was what caused the change.

QUESTION #5: Is the team's attitude and mood different during a bye week after you come off two wins?

EAVES: You're talking about our team last week and how they came to practice and such? It's a, well, first of all, it's compounded by the fact that we just had another, what, bye week shortly beforehand, and I think that makes it a little bit more challenging as a coach as to what you need to do as a staff to get something out of the second bye week. We changed it up to some degree. They didn't hear the same voice for the second bye week. I was out of here by Friday, and Coach Oz had the whistle, and so they were able to hear another voice, but it was more of a challenge.

And I think, you know, where they're at and where you are at, especially after a couple wins, you've kind of got to give them what they need. And to some degree, I thought we were a little bit more detailed in some of the things that we wanted this past week, although we only taught one day, we actually, I felt, demanded more from them, just because I think they were, you know, after a big sweep at Minnesota, they're feeling good about themselves, and I think you have to balance that by what you demand from them, understanding that it's a week where there are no games. You have to understand that, but still you want to get something out of the week.

QUESTION #6: Talking about the defense again, a guy, Craig Johnson, who saw a lot of time with Brendan out, what did you see out of him during that time and where do you maybe see his minutes going now with Brendan back?

EAVES: Well, right now we're going have him practice today with Mr. Gardiner. So Jake will play the left side, C.J. will be on the right. The thing about C.J. that he's come along is understanding where your strengths lie, what he's able to do, but I think a great asset of C.J.'s is the fact that he's got such a short-term memory that if he does fumble the ball or make a mistake, he lets it go and doesn't hold onto that and comes out and he's back playing to a pretty good level again for us.

And I think that he's very, another thing that helps C.J. is the fact that he's very talkative on the ice. So he makes his job and his partner's job a lot easier by talking, being verbal, and I wish a lot more of our guys would listen to that. He's maximizing what he has and what he can do by the simple fact he's got a short-term memory if he does make a mistake and the fact that he talks a lot, and that helps him be successful as well as his partner.

QUESTION #7: Mike, how big a deal is the MacNaughton Cup to you guys?

EAVES: Well, it's one of those intermediate goals, Andy. You know, you set goals out. Obviously, our first goal is to try to be on top of the mountain and win the NCAA championship. And then you set out intermediate goals, and one of those stops along the way is MacNaughton Cup. And in saying that, you know, we have six games left in the regular season, so what becomes our focus? Well, our focus really doesn't change. It's still the same 1-0 mentality that I've been telling you on a Friday and a Saturday, but then you have to talk about the process. You focus on the process. And if we do a good job of focusing on that process, then the byproduct of that may be that intermediate goal of being a MacNaughton champion, but we have to focus on that process. That's where our energies have to lie.

QUESTION #8: Do you like having a bye week before such a big series like this?

EAVES: It's a roll of the dice. You know, history tells us that our last bye week, we came out, we played pretty well against Colorado College. We have come out after a bye week and been flat Friday nights. That first period is really what you wait to see what happens. If we can get out of that period and be tied or up one or down just one, then that's pretty good because you haven't been playing at game speed for a while. So that's the reality of it, and so we'll monitor that first period real close and see where we are.

QUESTION #9: Mike, when you consider the injuries your team has gone through, and to be in the position you're in right now, does that say something about, I guess, not only the resiliency of your players but the depth of your club as a whole?

EAVES: Well, I think it gives credibility to the fact that, you know, when you run into injuries, and we're not the only team to have it happen, this happen to, but the fact is if you have the mentality that if one soldier falls, another one is going to pick up his rifle and have the opportunity to step in and do the job, that's, and you have that upbeat, you expect somebody to do that, we've had that this year. And I think that really helps in terms of getting the job done, is just going in it with the right attitude.

QUESTION #10: Mike, you've fared very well on the road playing against certain teams. But on the flip side, Denver has played very well here. From a coaching or a logical standpoint, is there any explanation to why that is, why they've played so well here against you guys?

EAVES: No. We've looked at it. We've talked about it . . . been same for us. We go to some buildings, play very well. Even as a player, there was always teams that I liked to play against because it seems that I would have more offensive success against them. I couldn't tell you why. And that's the case with Denver coming here. Their record here has been pretty good. We don't, you know, it's kind of a passing thought when we get ready to play them. This is a new weekend for us and them.

QUESTION #11: Do you like where your team is at as you head down the stretch here?

EAVES: Yeah, other than Ben Street not being in our lineup. You know, we're pretty healthy right now. We came off a big series. We've got lots to play for. It's an exciting time of year. It's going to go by quickly. So I think, talked to Coach Oz last week when I was out of town, he came in and was with the guys, he said the energy was good. I think they know what's at stake. I know they know. They walk by it every day. They're on the Internet more than we are. They know what's at stake. We have to just kind of keep their focus on the process here. If we do that, then we're doing our job.

QUESTION #12: Speaking of Internet, one of the popular items to watch over the past couple weeks was Coach Gwozdecky having a moment up in Grand Forks where he hopped over the boards and went out on the ice. Can you relate to that sort of emotion that would make a coach want to do something like that in the middle of a game, and what during a game is maybe the craziest, most outlandish, strangest thing that you have done that obviously isn't probably like that?

EAVES: Well, I've never walked across the ice during a game to try to figure out where my locker room was or sit for my penalty that I'd just taken. I don't think I've done anything really outlandish during the course of the game like that. I know that we, one of our fans sent us one of these yak-tracks, have you seen these, where you put them on the bottom of your shoes so when you walk across ice you don't slip. So I have that in my repertoire if I do so choose to do that, then I won't slip. I don't have that fear of doing that. But other than that, I can't say that I've really done anything too outlandish.

QUESTION #13: Not to belabor the last time you met, but was that, looking back on it, was that your worst weekend, this team's worst weekend?

EAVES: Yeah, this year it was, clearly. Clearly it was. We just, it was a dark weekend for us. Not a lot went well in any position. Had a lead, lost the lead, you know, those kind of things. It was a dark weekend for us. And, again, it really made us take a look in the mirror and, okay, where do we go from here. And thankfully, we can sit here and say we've done that and moved forward.

QUESTION #14: You just swept Minnesota, but you still outside the top 14 of the PairWise. You guys have been playing pretty well in the second half. Does it seem almost unrewarding in that sense that you still wouldn't be in the tournament?

EAVES: It does. I won't lie to you. But again, in terms of what we can control, I know that if we continue to win, that that will probably take care of itself. And so that's our focus. It does seem unfair, and I'm not sure if I understand the nuances, but I do know in talking to some folks that if we continue to win, then that will take care of itself.

QUESTION #15: When you watch Denver, what's the toughest thing to simulate of theirs? When you guys practice, what's the toughest thing to kind of, when you look at them that it's hard for you guys to simulate what they bring?

EAVES: Well, I'll be specific just in terms of one area of their game, and that's their penalty killing. They're a very pressure oriented team, and I know I've heard Bo [Ryan] sit up here in this same chair talk about the fact that you try to simulate what the other team does in practice, and you never quite get to that same level. And so we need to simulate that this week on the power play, for instance, on our power play, how they're going to come after us. And that just relates to the other parts of their game, which is skating. They like to skate, move the puck in transition, a lot like other teams in our league. So we have to prepare for that.

QUESTION #16: Seems like that pressure-oriented power, penalty kill worked well for you guys last year in the tournament though. You had a couple power play goals. Do you guys like playing against something like that?

EAVES: Well, I think that if you move the puck and do the right things, take what's given, you can be successful. But your people have to, the whole key is to know what you're going to do before you get the puck. And if you do that, and you have the skill people to take care of it and move the puck to areas it needs to, then you can, you know, you can be successful.

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