Fresh off a series sweep of the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves was feeling like things were finally coming together for his team. Friday and Saturday’s definitive wins included, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team lengthened its unbeaten streak of WCHA wins to 10 games.
“We found a way to answer the riddle,” Eaves said in his weekly press conference Monday.
Eaves cited the change in tempo and urgency all the men showed Saturday as the main push for their win, giving special note to its up-tempo pace that lasted into the final minutes.
Also of note was sophomore goaltender Landon Peterson’s efforts in defending the net as Eaves recalled Peterson’s third period shutout against the Seawolves Saturday night, stopping 21 shots overall and scratching an itch that had been bothering him since the teams’ last meeting in early December.
“He really closed the door and was able to make up for a disappointing performance earlier up at Anchorage where he let in a goal he really wished he could take back,” Eaves said.
That sustained the Badgers’ momentum and good health came into question a bit when senior center Derek Lee was injured over the weekend. When asked about the status of Lee, Eaves was able to report the integral member of the Badgers’ offensive line had passed preliminary cognitive tests yesterday under medical supervision.
Nonetheless, Eaves would not definitively comment on whether or not Lee would be out on the ice with his team this weekend at North Dakota, adding he would be sitting out Monday’s practice and taking the recovery from his head injury day-by-day, awaiting the dissipation of minor headaches that have been bothering Lee since the injury.
It was made very clear Lee was wanted back in the game as soon as possible as Eaves addressed the star’s successful senior season.
“After being an understudy to some other boys, it’s now his time to shine,” Eaves said. “It’s been really fun to watch him step up to the plate and blossom a little bit. We need him in the lineup.”
Following Saturday night’s major hit that left Lee sprawled and bewildered on the ice, many have wondered why no penalty was called on the play in which a Seawolves’ defenseman rammed into Lee’s head, forcing a collapse and early exit from the ice for the Badgers’ center.
Eaves addressed safety concerns from the public with regards to the hit by noting the play was witnessed by all four officials refereeing the game. He further added he himself compiled footage from the team’s own camera angles of the incident and has sent it in for further official review.
Eaves drew a parallel to his own experience with concussions, noting the difficulties that can sometimes develop in the psyche and motivation of an athlete during recovery, even when physical damage no longer remains. He cited the final concussion of his career as the main reason he chose to retire from the National Hockey League.
“Up until the last one, there was never a question that I was coming back,” Eaves said.
Eaves remains optimistic Lee will soon return to the ice as well.
With the health of Eddie Wittchow and Ryan Little also a bit in question, Eaves cleared the air on all accounts, noting both players are ready for practice all week.
“And I’m fine, in case you’re wondering,” Eaves added with a taste of humor as the team preps for another important weekend in the WCHA.
The Badgers will take to the road, traveling to the home of the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota. With both teams in a deadlock for fourth place in the WCHA standings and the Badgers just four points out of first place, a pair of victories could make a huge difference in how the season plays out for the cardinal and white.
Friday’s game is set for 7:30 p.m., with Saturday’s puck dropping at 7 p.m.