Eaves preps youthful squad for season opener

first_imgHead coach Mike Eaves, who won a title with the Badgers in 2006, faces a challenge in leading a team with only five juniors and one seniors. Junior defensemen Justin Schultz figures to be one of the players counted on by Eaves to guide the young squad.[/media-credit]A battle of youth will commence this weekend as the Wisconsin men’s hockey team hosts a similarly fresh-faced Northern Michigan squad in its season opener at the Kohl Center.20 of the 26 Badger skaters this year are either freshmen or sophomores, while the remaining six players are juniors with only one senior. In his Monday press conference, head coach Mike Eaves discussed what he believes will be the biggest challenges for his team at the beginning of this season.“You’re going to trip and fall,” Eaves said. “You just need to pick yourself up, learn what you can, move forward and get ready for your next shift.”Eaves has used seemingly every tool in his arsenal to prepare his young players for their first experiences as college hockey players, including the helpful technology the Kohl Center has to offer. Eaves said the team has been watching film of their practices shot from an aerial view.“We can show them doing it properly then go right back on the ice and have repetitions of that same system” Eaves said.Eaves stressed the importance of ‘systems’ and ‘repetition’ when assisting new players in their transition to college hockey.“We planted seeds in a minimal way,” Eaves said. “We only move forward when we feel like we have planted this one, so now we can move on to the next one.”Eaves and the Badgers are able to lean on their current upperclassmen for support in acclimating the freshman as well as leading the team.A key returner for Wisconsin this season is junior defensive skater, Justin Schultz. Last season, Schultz was the nation’s leading blue line scorer with 18 goals and was worth 47 points overall.This season, Eaves is looking to Schultz to rally his team to improve from last year.“When you get one of the best players in college hockey back, it certainly boosts your blue line,” Eaves said. “He is a young man that when he makes that step, he wants to make that step right to the show, he doesn’t want to spend time at the lower levels. He is going to push our players.”Wisconsin’s defense will be anchored this season by one of three goalies. Junior goaltender Mitch Thompson will be joined by two freshmen, Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel. Eaves has not yet determined who his starter will be this season and he sees great potential in all three players.The head coach has been impressed by the athleticism and quickness of both freshmen and is equally excited about the physical changes in the returning Thompson.“[Thompson] is fitter, he is stronger and he wants it more than anybody on our team.” Eaves said.Eaves’ only concern, however, is that Thompson’s intensity gets in the way of his performance, at times.“Sometimes he works against himself, though, because he tries too hard,” Eaves said. “He has maximized himself physically and I think that as he relaxes, he’ll become a better goaltender.”Eaves will use a scrimmage this week, as well as the advice from his goaltending coach, Jeff Sanger, to select a starting netminder for this weekend’s season opener.Sanger was a notable goaltender at Colorado College and served as an assistant coach for the Wisconsin women’s hockey team for two years before joining the men’s side primarily as a goaltending instructor.“His input is very important to us as coaches,” Eaves said. “We don’t look at the goaltenders, per se. We may only notice them if they make an unbelievable save or they let a really bad one in.”Rejoining Eaves on the coaching staff for their second seasons are assistant coaches Bill Butters and Gary Shuchuk. Both coaches bring valuable knowledge and experience to the rink for the Badgers. Eaves is comfortable with their knowledge of the Wisconsin hockey program and enjoys the energy they bring to the ice.“Knowing that they can delegate more comfortably and take over takes a load off my mind,” Eaves said. “They are such good people and men and it’s fun to be around them.”last_img

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