Coming off a crushing sweep at the hands of the Pioneers of Denver University, Mike Eaves and the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team are focused on moving forward in their final four regular season games.
Though the sweep by DU was demoralizing, UW has experience rebounding from tough losses. The Badgers started the year on a seven game winless streak before responding with a 16-5-2 record over their next 23 games.
“That is our task as a staff. What do we do to get that back,” Eaves said. “I think we told the guys when they left the building here, when you get knocked down like that it is about pulling your own socks up coming back and feeling good about yourself … and remember that we are a very good hockey team.”
With series left against Minnesota State and first place North Dakota, Eaves’ fourth place team has lots of room to move either up or down in the conference standings. Considering the top three finishers in conference will skip the play-in game to the WCHA playoffs Final Five, finishing in the upper third of the conference represents UW’s most realistic goal.
“Well it’s a little more precarious now,” Eaves said of his team’s final standing. “There is a chance we can still win the McNaughton Cup. The secondary emphasis comes for us making sure that we finish in the top three. … Our focus doesn’t change.”
Denver series has some positives
Despite being outscored by the Pioneers 9-3 over the weekend, the Badgers outshot DU 80-49. While his team failed to hit the back of the net in Saturday’s 5-0 loss, Eaves felt the offensive effort was fine.
“If you take a look at the scoring chances from the weekend, we outchanced them,” Eaves said. “And part of that comes from getting the puck on the net. So we are not settling for anything, that is part of the strategy. You have to be very clear about that. You take a look at the numbers; on Friday night we outchanced them, and Saturday night we outchanced them. So, that is part of the strategy; we are not settling for anything.”
The most notable shift in play came from Badger goaltender, senior Shane Connelly. Though UW’s starting netminder had one of the best weekends of his career at Minnesota two weekends ago, Connelly came crashing back down to earth against Denver getting pulled after the first period Saturday.
“I talked to Shane yesterday, sat down and chatted about the weekend and I wanted to get everything on the table,” Eaves said. “I think he left the building last night with a little jump in his step and looking forward to this week. He has been at times this season one of the best goalies in the league. There are times when it has slipped, and we need him to get back to being the best goaltender in the league. He knows he’s capable of that.”
Wisconsin has experienced all kinds of problems with Denver this year — losing all four games and giving up a total of 22 goals to the Pioneers. According to Eaves though, the latest series doesn’t compare to earlier in the year.
“The feeling at the end of the weekend is the same,” Eaves said. “The thing that we don’t want is paralysis by analysis. We were 15 seconds away from being tied for first and all those kind of things. We don’t want to overanalyze everything.”
Difficult weekend for two Badgers
With sophomore defenseman Brendan Smith coming back from injury this weekend and junior forward John Mitchell being ejected from Saturday’s game, two UW players had weekends to forget.
Though Smith wasn’t on ice for any goals the Badgers gave up, the talented defenseman wasn’t his usual crisp self on the Badger power play
“Probably a typical weekend for coming back from being off six plus weeks,” Eaves said. “You are always nervous when a player comes back in because they have to get in the flow of things. What you tend to remember is how good they are and all the things they can do, but in between there is that process of from being hurt and getting going again.”
While Mitchell was tossed from Saturday’s game for a 10-minute game misconduct, Eaves’ says he will be available for Friday’s game.
“He is going to be fine,” Eaves said. “I talked to (official) Greg Shepherd Saturday night just to be sure what transpired there, and what I was told by the referee and what was on the game sheet were two different things. Talked to Greg right away and he spoke to the referee and cleared it up, so he will be available this Friday.”