Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Has Eaves wrapped up coach of the year?

Coming into the 2010-2011 hockey season the general consensus amongst college hockey pundits, fans, and media was that the Wisconsin Badgers were in for a big time down year.

Who could blame them? A year after being in the National Championship game the Badgers returned to the ice minus seven seniors who all saw significant minutes. Two of those seniors (Michael Davies and Blake Geoffrion) produced 50 point seasons and Geoffrion won the Hobey Baker.

The Badgers also returned minus 4 underclassmen. Two of those underclassmen (Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan) are in the NHL while 2 are seeing significant minutes in the AHL (Cody Goloubef and Brendan Smith). Both Smith and Stepan were also hit the 50 point plateau last season for Wisconsin.

To add a cherry on top of an already atomic bomb like summer of departures for the Badgers, both assistant coach, Mark Osiecki (Ohio State), and Kevin Patrick (Muskegon, USHL) left the program to take head coaching jobs elsewhere.

Yet remarkably the program has hardly skipped a beat. The Badgers are 17-8-3 this season, and were 17-8-4 last year at this same time. They are ranked #7 in the current Pairwise ranking and have positioned themselves a solid #2 seed come tournament time, a seemingly unthinkable feat mere months ago.

I don't think Eaves presence in this program can be understated. Little things this season such as moving redshirt sophomore Ryan Little from defense to forward this season has worked wonders. Little, who will hit anything that moves is a tough defensive forward that players hate playing against and has even chipped in on the offensive end with 5 goals and 4 assists.

Arguably the biggest move that Eaves made was accelerating forward Michael Mersch's time line to Madison. The listed 6'1, 196 pound forward is supposed to be a senior in high school right now. Recognizing Mersch's potential and that with the Badgers likely losing 8-9 forwards off last season's squad, Eaves asked Mersch to accelerate his high school studies to graduate a year early and play for the Badgers in 2010-11. The move has obviously paid off, given that Mersch has been an every night player putting up 15 points through his first 28 college games.

In my opinion it's a no brainer that Eaves has already locked up the coach of the year award by the results this team has shown. If anyone projected the Badgers to be this good, this soon after losing all they lost is lying. Look no further than down 94 West at Minnesota where they can't seem to get it together despite bringing in top 3 recruiting classes year, after year.

If Eaves can can have the program this productive after losing all those departures last summer, it's going to be fun to see the future of this program over the next few years when things settle down.

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Photo by JOHN T. GREILICK