If there is a positive aspect to be taken from all of the struggles of the men's hockey team throughout the early part of the season, it is that they are ready and willing to play on the road.
After another fruitless series at the Kohl Center two weeks ago, the Badgers faced a stiff challenge when they headed to Magness Arena to take on, then, fifth-ranked Denver last weekend. UW answered the bell, picking up a much needed three points in the WCHA with a tie and a win against the Pioneers.
While offensive production probably isn't quite where the coaching staff would like it to be, Wisconsin held Denver to just two goals in two games, an impressive feat considering that the Pioneers entered the series as the second-highest scoring team in the nation.
Eaves attributed the success to solid goaltending and the hustle of his players in the defensive zone.
"You mentioned one, the goaltending. The other one that jumped off the sheet this weekend is we had 35 blocked shots, which is our most for the first half of the season ," Eaves said. "That might be a record."
While it is going to take more than three points to get the Badgers back in the race to be amongst the top teams in the conference, Eaves could not deny the fact that his players were happy about their performance against Denver.
"Well, from a coaching standpoint – I'm sure from a player's, there's jubilation. There's always a difference between how coaches view something like that, but from the coaching standpoint, it was the exact medicine we needed to get ourselves going in the right direction", Eaves said "You can only tell them so long you have to make the right choices and do the right things, but a win solidifies all that and makes it easier to go back to the rink on Monday and get back to work."
Wisconsin returns home this upcoming weekend in hopes of righting the ship during league play. Eaves knows that the upcoming series provides opportunities for his squad on multiple fronts.
"There's a lot of reasons that these next four games are important, and you mentioned a couple of them – reconnecting with our fans. I think it's – as we were talking this morning as a staff, I don't think we've played a team that we felt we couldn't have beaten in our league or beyond," Eaves said. "We've had some challenges at scoring goals and winning games, especially at home."
"So I think I got a lot of nice texts and e-mails because our game on Friday was on a national stage, and people were pumped up to see us play and play well against a top-ranked team," Eaves said. "As you said, one of the reasons these next four games are important is let's let our own fans see that live and score some goals."
In order sustain the positive momentum, the Badgers will have to make the most of their injury situation, which, as it stands now, contains both positive and negative news especially as it pertains to Mark Zengerele and Morgan Zulinick.
"Mark (Zengerle) is closer to playing this weekend. We'll put him in regular gear today and see what he can handle. He joined us on the road trip. I think the mindset was to be around the team and get him ready," Eaves said. "And Zully is – Zully kind of took a step backwards with his thigh injury. They shut him down this week, they meaning the trainers. So we'll see how he is today and what they want to do with him."
But, on the bright side, in addition to potentially seeing Zengerle for the first time in weeks, fans at the KC will get their first glimpse at forward Nic Kerdiles. Eaves is feeling good about the impact that the freshman has made during his first two games in the lineup.
"Very much a positive impact. You could see the energy he brought to the ice. He won battles. He had a couple of assists on Saturday because he was around the puck," Eaves said. "On Dahl's goal, he shot the puck, and it hit something and hit something and went in. He has that intangible as a hockey player. That's something – I think that's the first goal we've had like that scored for us this year. It was kind of banged around and went in."
Wisconsin will return to WCHA play on Friday night as the Badgers play host to Michigan Tech at the Kohl Center. Faceoff is slated for 7 p.m.