The over-arching theme of men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves’ address to the media Monday was coming of age.
Following the Badgers’ winless WCHA opener against No. 11 Denver, Eaves likened the growth of his team to Tiger Woods’ entrance into the majors. The way in which Wisconsin’s core of young athletes must adapt to the collegiate level is similar to the way Tiger Woods changed his golf swing when he entered the pros.
Growing pains are evident, as 17 of 26 players on Wisconsin’s roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
“I guess it would be like when Tiger Woods turned pro, he changed his golf swing to adapt to a new level, and I think for some of these young men they have to change their game to adapt to this level,” Eaves said. “They’re going through that process right now.”
Eaves discussed how the outcome of this past weekend’s series at Denver aided to the maturation of his team and how the way they competed will set the barometer moving forward.
“We hung around on Friday night but didn’t quite play good enough to win,” Eaves said. “On Saturday night we could or should have won. We played well enough to win.”
“We told the kids after the game that if we play every game like that, we’re going to win a lot of games, so playing a game like that sets the table up for us a little bit in sort of understanding from the inside out the level that we need to play at.”
Denver had recently come off a winless series against No. 1 Boston College and was playing their home opener in WCHA play against Wisconsin. Saturday’s tie against the Pioneers earned the Badger’s their first point of WCHA play.
Aside from complimenting his team’s resolve, Eaves praised a number of individual players for their weekend performance, including freshman forward Mark Zengerle. Eaves agreed to a comparison between him and former UW forward Michael Davies, a major contributor from last year who also wore the number nine.
“I think you start with the number, the size that he is, they’re different types of skaters, but in terms of their skill-set, they certainly have the same types of skills. They see the ice, they are able to distribute the puck and be offensive, so there are a lot of similarities,” Eaves said.
Zengerle has at least one goal in all six of Wisconsin’s games this season for a total of 10. Eaves also noted the young forward’s improved play away from the puck, which can only enhance his already sparkling offensive pedigree.
Additionally, Eaves commented on the Badgers’ 32 blocked shots Saturday, a handful due to the efforts of senior forward Patrick Johnson.
“We had a lot of guys who sacrificed [their bodies],” Eaves said. “There were ice bags going all the way around the locker room. When you have that type of situation you know you played hard enough to win. Patrick is probably playing his best hockey of his career with us.”
The Badgers went with senior goaltender Scott Gudmandson against Denver because of his experience playing in Denver and in big series in general. Eaves cited how Gudmandson struggled in this arena last season, so last weekend’s trip to high-altitude Denver served as a chance for the goal keeper to redeem himself. Looking into the future, expect the Badgers to continue with Gudmandson Friday against Michigan Tech with a decision on Saturday’s start based largely on how Gudmandson fares Friday.