Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It was a tough press conference for Wisconsin head hockey coach, Mike Eaves, this week.
"“The Big Ten is here. We’ve got an opponent that a lot of our kids will know from football and basketball, but now they’re hockey; I hope that draws them out and we’ll have a packed building as well.” – Mike Eaves"
Finding himself having to come to the defense of his team, again, Eaves made a statement, and credited his guys for the way they handles two tough hockey games in Minnesota.
Getting back on the ice just six days later should help Wisconsin going into their first extended home-stand of the season. It should also help turn things to the focus to winning when they continue Big Ten play, Friday, against Penn State at the Kohl Center in Madison.
“That will help us get over last weekend, that’s for sure,” Eaves said, of avoiding another bye week. “That was one thing that was said right after the game is good thing about this is we play again next weekend. We can get right back on the ice and not have to live with this for another bye week.”
It wasn’t the fact UW lost it’s conference opener and series to Minnesota wasn’t neccesarily disappointing. They way Wisconsin lost, turning the puck over in front of their own net late in the third period, was.
“Watching the fourth goal, was almost in disbelief that that happened,” Eaves said. “Michael (Mersch) had several options that he could have done with the puck, and then Joe Faust actually hits the puck with his stick. It pops in the air, and [Seth] Ambroz knocks it out of the air in the net. So in a heartbeat that thing turned around.
“Michael is a senior, veteran player, makes a lot more a lot more better plays than the ones that happened the other night. The biggest thing that we’re going to do today as a team is we’re going to look at the game and some of the things that carried on that game. It was a great college hockey game. I mean, I enjoyed watching that game immensely, except for knowing the fact how it turned out.”
With Minnesota’s sweep of Wisconsin, and Michigan’s sweep of Ohio State, it’s not time for UW to dig themselves a hole. And what he expects from a newly formed Penn State team is what he expects week-in and week-out inside conference play, and that’s a hard-nosed, gritty and intense match-up.
“They have good size at the net,” he said. “Watching them play up front, much like last year, it’s funny how a… team will emulate the personality of the coach. They play hard. Guy Gadowsky, he had a great record at Princeton. They come on a well coached team that will be in good shape and work very hard. It doesn’t matter what the score will be or what the situation is, they’ll play hard. That’s what they’re going to bring to the table, first and foremost.”
Who will be in goal this weekend looks to still be decided, though odds say it’ll be Landon Peterson, Friday, followed by fellow junior, Joel Rumpel, Saturday.
“I think they’ve (both) shown us they can be better, and I think they need to get there,” Eaves said. “I thought on Saturday Rumps was a little sloppy in some of his play with the puck, going out and stopping it.”
Taking away some positives, Eaves stressed his teams competitive nature.
“Playing against a team that can play at a high pace,” he said. “It just shows that we can play at that level. That level, in our mind, as a coaching staff, is the kind of championship level you’re going to see at a national tournament or regional. High pace, good skill. Transition was phenomenal.”
And as for the head coaches’ thoughts on the atmosphere inside the Kohl Center this weekend? Well, the assumption is electric.
“I’m hoping it will be really exciting. I know our kids are excited,” Eaves said. “Our administration bought us a couple new toys we’re going to come on the ice and have on the ice that create, they hope, a better fan experience, and hope we can provide some of that fan experience by going out and playing great hockey. The Big Ten is here. We’ve got an opponent that a lot of our kids will know from football and basketball, but now they’re hockey; I hope that draws them out and we’ll have a packed building as well.”
Tale Of The Teams
Penn State: (3-7-1, 0-0-0);
Wisconsin: (4-5-1, 0-2-0);