Despite dropping two games in the inaugural series of Big Ten hockey to No. 1 Minnesota, the No. 12 University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is not looking at the series as demise or defeat.
Head coach Mike Eaves was all smiles Monday at his weekly press conference, not dwelling on mistakes made in the Minnesota series, and was very optimistic about the rest of the season for his squad.
“It was a great college hockey game. I mean, I enjoyed watching that game immensely, except for knowing the fact how it turned out,” Eaves said.
He recalled how it all played out on the bizarre last second play that gave the Gophers their 4-3 victory over the Badgers.
“Watching the fourth goal, [I] was almost in disbelief that that happened. Michael 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,” Eaves said.
Additionally, Eaves expressed what it was like to be a major point scorer for the Badgers and how players like senior forward Mark Zengerle might approach such great accomplishments, as Zengerle recorded his 100th career assist in Saturday’s game.
“To be really truthful, I don’t think you recognize those things when you’re playing. It’s when you’re done that you kind of look back and reflect,” Eaves said. “So I have not made a point of congratulating Mark on that accomplishment. I will do so today, but I’m pretty sure Mark might say, ‘Well, maybe that will mean something later on.’ Right now I think you’re so involved in the moment and trying to get going here and get on a roll and get some wins that that’s not a big thing.”
Despite the Badger’s middling record, Eaves is adamant that his team still has what it takes to win big. Last weekend’s losses at Minnesota have not changed that.
“Playing against a team that can play at a high pace, 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,” Eaves said. “Transition was phenomenal. There are so many great things about that game that encourage us that we’re on the right track.”
Looking forward, Wisconsin will host its inaugural Big Ten Hockey conference opener at the Kohl Center this weekend against Penn State, whose formation of a Division I hockey program last year led to the new conference’s creation. Eyeing a pair of wins over the Nittany Lions (3-7-1, 0-0 Big Ten), the coaches along with the players expect an impressive performance in the Big Ten home opener.
“I’m hoping it will be really exciting. I know our kids are excited. 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,” said Eaves. “The Big Ten is here.”