In the midst of a critical coaching change, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team remains in preparation for its series this coming weekend against Minnesota.
Without any games on the schedule this past weekend, Wisconsin (1-4-1 overall, 1-2-1 in WCHA) was relatively lucky with the timing of assistant coach Bill Butters’ departure.
Butters announced his surprising decision to step down last Wednesday. The assistant coach was in his third season with the team, but he decided to leave so he could move on from coaching hockey to spend more time with his family in Minnesota.
But, as is commonplace in the world of college athletics, change is just the name of the game.
“I think part of our world as coaches, in fact, is that change is part of the norm,” head coach Mike Eaves said during his weekly press conference Monday. “Whether it’s injury, whether you’re traveling and have bad weather, whether it’s the middle of the game and the referee makes a call that you don’t agree with.
“So I think, once again, change is a constant. It’s what we deal with all the time in the coaching world and I think what we deal with in life.”
The shock of the move for the most part has passed over the program, but the team was still, nonetheless, surprised by Butters’ choice.
“I think we’ve moved past it, and I think they have in their own way moved past it,” Eaves said. “So we’re moving on.”
Still in the wake of the departure, the team is still deciding on how to fill the vacant position. But, as is the case with any hire, the team will take its time deciding on a replacement for Butters.
“There are many factors that go into [finding a new coach],” Eaves said. ”And being on the inside, you want to do things quickly, and yet you want to do things thoroughly.”
The hockey team has its own process in selecting coaches, but so too does the University of Wisconsin. The university holds a separate screening process in which additional checks of a coaching candidate are weighed, according to Eaves.
Assistant coach Gary Shuchuk could take on added responsibilities with the program as well with the absence of an assistant coach on the roster.
Shuchuk played collegiate hockey at Wisconsin before moving on to the NHL and, eventually, all over the world to play.
He was an All-American in 1990 on the Badgers’ squad that won the national championship.
Shuchuk set many records for the Badgers during his four years as a player, and thanks to his play at an extremely high level, he has been able to connect with the current players naturally because of his relationship with the game.
Eaves said he has been impressed with Shuchuk’s work thus far as a UW assistant and is looking forward to helping him take on a greater role.
“I think [Shuchuk] is one of those guys, guys talk about ‘I want this guy in my fox hole,’” Eaves said. “When things get tough, he’s going to do things to get it done.”
Along with the coaching change, the team has already had to deal with some other distractions as well.
Junior forward Mark Zengerle has watched practice while riding the stationary bike the past week, using the time off the ice as motivation fueling his rehab and his future return. His broken finger will keep him out for an additional four to five weeks.
The Badgers are still missing freshman Nic Kerdiles on the ice during games as well. Kerdiles has been able to practice while still under his ten-game suspension from the NCAA.
He was originally suspended for the entire season before the NCAA lessened it to just 30 percent of the season.
This weekend, the Badgers will head to Minnesota to take on the Gophers (6-2-1, 3-2-1). Minnesota has been impressive so far this season, earning a total scoring differential of 20 goals over their opponents.
“They probably have the most depth at forward in our league in terms of ability and talent,” Eaves said. “Three top lines for sure and a fourth line that’s not bad as well in terms of ability.”