Coming off of a 2-2 overtime tie Friday night and a 3-1 loss Saturday to third-ranked Minnesota, Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves is looking to move forward and focus on the upcoming weekend.
The Border Battle in Minneapolis took the Badgers’ winless streak to five games, their last victory coming Oct. 26 over Minnesota-Duluth. Though Wisconsin (1-5-2) battled its way to a tie with one of the top teams in the WCHA in game one, two third period goals from the Gophers in the second game of the series left the Badgers from earning their second win of the season in Minneapolis.
“When you lose like we did on Saturday, where we are close, hanging around, having chances, it really hurts,” Eaves said at his Monday press conference. “On Saturday, we looked at the video at the things we didn’t like, and we didn’t pass the puck very well, we didn’t connect the dots like we’ve seen our kids do.”
Despite the defeat in Mariucci Arena Saturday, Eaves said he has re-evaluated his plan for practice this week and will try out new strategies in a series with Minnesota State this weekend.
“We’re going to go back and work on our skill, we’re going to go over our system details, and we’re quite frankly going to skate a little bit to make sure we’re covering all our bases so that we’re not leaving anything to doubt,” Eaves said.
When asked about what is keeping the veteran forwards from taking control of the game and being productive up to this point, Eaves pointed out that several key contributors are not on the ice due to injuries and other issues.
“When you take out (Mark) Zengerle and Nic Kerdiles, we have different chemistry up front,” Eaves said. “With the lack of goal production by having the forwards back, some of the chemistry is missing.”
A junior forward, Zengerle has 92 points off 20 goals and 72 assists in his career and entered the 2012-13 campaign as college hockey’s top returning scorer. He is eight points shy of hitting the 100-point mark for his career, an achievement that would make him the 71st Badger in program history to reach the century mark.
Zengerle had points in Wisconsin’s first five games before getting injured in the second period of the sixth game Nov. 3 and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks from the time of his injury.
Due to a violation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules, Kerdiles, a highly-touted freshman forward, will first suit up for the Badgers in a road game against Denver Nov. 30.
With Zengerle out, Eaves is working on creating a more balanced lineup, moving some players to, in the coach’s own words, “see if that gives us a little jump” and will review the power plays to see if any adjustments should be made.
Asked if he had ever imagined his team’s potential had it not suffered the injuries and other issues keeping several of his top players off the ice, Eaves said he is trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
“I think [the team] wants to know, ‘OK, we weren’t as successful as we were this weekend, what’s our plan coach, give us the truth in what you saw and let’s move forward and let’s get better and figure out what we’re going to do against Minnesota State,’” he explained.
“That’s the way we’re going to look at it.”
Transition on bench
After the departure of Wisconsin assistant coach Bill Butters two weeks ago, the series against Minnesota marked Eaves’ first time with Gary Shuchuk coaching the Badger defensemen.
Eaves described his communication with Schuck, another assistant coach, as “decent” but said there is certainly room to improve as the assistant adjusts to his new coaching responsibilities with the team.
Though the transition has been relatively smooth so far, Eaves pledged that he will find a replacement for Butters before the season is over. Wisconsin’s head coach said Butters, who left the team to pursue a calling in the ministry, played too important a role for this team to not find a successor soon.
“There’s too big a hole that would exist — I think we can kind of make do, but I think we need to fill that hole in order to cover all our bases as far as coaching, teaching, recruiting, working with these young people,” Eaves said. “So we will get somebody in. Maybe we could afford two microphones.”