Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach, Mike Eaves, has a long, challenging summer ahead of him.
Just weeks after a national championship run, Eaves’ programs already looks a whole lot different.
His two assistant coaches? Both gone. Mark Osiecki took the head coaching position at Ohio State and Kevin Patrick is now a head coach in the USHL.
His Hobey Baker award winner? Gone. Blake Geoffrion and six other senior forwards have met the end of their collegiate careers.
Two of his talented junior defenseman? Gone as well. Brendan Smith and Cody Golobeuf are skipping their senior seasons to kick-start their professional careers.
So much for a relaxing summer break.
Starting all over again
When Eaves first started coaching he would take single week off during the summer to unwind. But after a couple years, that just wasn’t enough.
“I used to take a week off but it wasn’t enough time to recharge your batteries. So last year we took two weeks off back-to-back and it was awesome,” Eaves said. “But this summer will be different because I need two new coaches.”
With Osiecki and Patrick gone, Eaves has even more on his plate. The top priority now is to resurrect his coaching staff, and after WCHA and national coaches’ meetings in Florida, Eaves is beginning to make some progress.
“Did I find the answers? No, the answer is no. But it was certainly productive in terms of the process,” Eaves said. “You have you’re A-list and your B-list and I want to make sure we are very diligent.”
For Eaves, the long process has brought back memories of his first days on the job as the UW head coach, when he started his vision of the program from scratch.
“It’s like when I first started,” Eaves said. “When you have good people working for you let them do there thing and you step in only when needed. Now all of the sudden I’ve got to get closer to everything again. It feels like the first year here when I was trying to hire people and get used to college hockey.”
Like Eaves said, his former assistants were top-notch, especially Osiecki who was responsible for the talented Badger defensemen.
But while Osiecki’s defensive expertise will be missed, Eaves says it’s his ability on the recruiting front that must be immediately replaced.
“I want somebody who has been on the recruiting trail. To me, that is the number one priority because at the collegiate level recruiting is your bloodline,” Eaves said. “A big priority is to hire someone who has contacts, knows the college routes so we can transition seamlessly.”
Eaves got the chance to speak to a number of potential candidates during the meetings and he hopes to have the coaching decisions made by the end of May or mid-June.
Getting past the disappointment
As his players shed tears and felt the pain of a 5-0 loss in the championship game, Eaves remained collected and composed, but underneath the calm appearance, the loss took its toll on the head coach.
In fact, it took Eaves a full week to regroup before he could analyze the game tape.
“I wasn’t ready to watch it anytime before that because you’re so disappointed,” Eaves said.
Once Eaves sat and watched the game he saw the unfortunate bounces and the missed opportunities all over again. But in this sport its often time those bounces that decide champions.
“You look at the 2006 game in Milwaukee, the puck hits the post in the last second and bounces out. If that puck goes in its tied 2-2 and who knows what happens.
“But you know, it was probably our turn,” Eaves said.
After that 2006 national championship, Eaves said he bought breakfast for BC coach Jerry York at the coaches’ meetings in Florida.
So what did Eaves tell York after their teams clashed in 2010?
Two new captains?
With last year behind them, the Badgers and Eaves already have their minds on next season.
Team votes were tallied and Ryan McDonagh was unanimously named the lone captain. Derek Stepan was tabbed as his assistant. A second assistant captain is expected to named later on.
But the question remains – will McDonagh and Stepan stick around to lead the way? Or will they accept pro contracts and join the New York Rangers?
Stepan made it clear throughout the year that despite his gaudy statistical season, he needs more work at the collegiate level and that he intends to return. McDonagh on the other hand, appears ready for the pros. He’ll have to decide if he wants to end his college career prematurely.
Does that decision affect Eaves’ outlook on the team?
“Yeah I think it does,” he said. “A, because he’s our captain and B, he’s our best, most experienced defenseman. He could one of the top three defensemen in the nation.”
UW’s top defenseman is a ways away from coming to a final decision.
“There is no indication at this point. He is weighing everything, checking out his options and it is a nice problem for him to have,” Eaves said. “He knows that he could come back and be the captain. This could be his team. And you never know what can happen here with the guys we have. He’s talked about that.”
Forming a new identity
With so many forwards leaving, trying to fill out a line chart for next season is no easy task.
The 2010-11 Badgers are about to take on a whole new identity and according to Eaves, the high-scoring, explosive attack we saw this past year won’t likely reappear next season.
“The team next year is going to have to find a different way to win,” Eaves said. “We have two senior goaltenders, depending on whether Ryan comes back – because he is a cornerstone – we could have 4 of our 6 defensemen back. But we are going to be young up front.”
Eaves confirmed that Craig Smith will make the move to center and Derek Lee will get his chance to crack the lineup at the center position. Stepan and Sean Dolan are the only two centers from last year expected to return.
Six freshman forwards, including BCHL top scorer Mark Zengerle, will join the program in the fall and they will be given an opportunity to compete for time on the top lines.
It will be a summer loaded with change for the Badgers and at this point, Eaves is just looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.
“It’s exciting, it’s the unknown,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how next year’s group comes together.”