CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 15: Head coach Mark Osiecki of the Ohio State Buckeys looks on from the bench while playing the Michigan Wolverines during the Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field on January 15, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

5 Names Badgers hockey need to consider in replacing Mike Eaves

Barry Alvarez and the Wisconsin Badgers athletic department staff are now tasked with finding its second head coach in as many weeks, after firing both Bobbie Kelsey (women’s basketball) and Mike Eaves (men’s hockey) following early exits from their respective Big Ten tournaments.

Lat week we focused on five names UW should be looking at in hiring Kelsey’s replacement. This week, we look at the much bigger task of finding a replacement for Eaves.

UW ties matter, but how much? Winning matters, but at what level? Do NHL ties matter or does a true understanding of today’s college hockey landscape mean more?

All of these things are likely going in to the list that Alvarez is so famous for having. However, we have five names that should be on the short list if we were making the decision (and we aren’t including in-house option Mark Johnson because…well, OBVIOUS CHOICE).

Let’s see who those names are?

*these aren’t names that we know are being considered…just our own opinion on names we’d be reaching out to. 

Don Granato, USNDT U-18 head coach

If ever there is a coach who understands recruiting and the elite of the elite players in American youth hockey, it is Granato. He coached current Badgers forward Luke Kunin, and he was easily the star of the season for UW in just his true freshman season.

Granato is a last name very well connected to the history of the Badgers program, and Don totally gets that as a former player (1987-91) and a brother to two other former Badgers hockey legends (Tony and Cami).

One of the big things to like is Granato led the U-18 Team USA squad to a world championship in 2015, and has a clear desire to be a head coach. In fact, many believed he was in line for a role as an assistant at UW last season, but turned it down because he wanted to be a head coach.

Badgers ties? ✔️

Elite recruiting knowledge? ✔️

Head coaching experience? ✔️

Winning tradition as a coach? ✔️

Basically, Granato checks all the boxes as a head coach and after leading the U-18 squad for the past few seasons, it may be the perfect time to step up to what seems to be a dream job for him.

Mark Osiecki, Rockford IceHogs assistant

Osiecki was clearly a guy that Eaves wanted behind the bench with him this past season, but thanks to a long run in the AHL playoffs for the Rockford IceHogs, there simply wasn’t time to get him in the program. However, Osiecki gets what it means to coach at Wisconsin, having been an assistant to Eaves from 2004-10.

In fact, he was credited as the lead recruiter for much of the talent that was collected for the 2006 national championship team.

The trepidation with him is if he could make his tenure stick for the long-term. His history at the junior and NCAA levels suggest there is plenty to be desired. After making the Green Bay Gamblers in to one of the best USHL teams from 1997 to 2002, the team nosedived to back-to-back 5th place finishes in the USHL East division.

Given Eaves’ history of success and severe nosedive one has to be cautious about this potential hire.

Still, we’d be inclined to look in to him because sometimes its situation over talent. In his case, that certainly seems to be what happened in his three-year tenure at Ohio State, as he followed up back-to-back 9th place CCHA finishes with a nice uptick to 4th place in 2012-13. It wasn’t good enough for the AD there though, and they moved on.

Since then, Osiecki has hooked up with one of the best NHL organizations out there in the Chicago Blackhawks.

Of all the coaches on this list, Osiecki has the most upside and the most reasons to be worried. Still, we’d be hearing him out on how to turn around this program. Few know it better from a coaching perspective.

Mel Pearson, Michigan Tech head coach

No ties to the UW program? Sure, Pearson doesn’t have Wisconsin Badgers hockey running through his blood. What he does have is a clear pedigree of success and perhaps its time for UW hockey to look outside its inner circle for the future of its program.

All Pearson does have is a wealth of knowledge from Michigan’s historic Red Berenson, having been an assistant at Michigan from 1988-2011. Since then, he returned to his alma mater, Michigan Tech, and has made the Huskies in to one of the best turnaround stories in college hockey today.

His Huskies finished 10th in the WCHA in year one, but have moved to 5th and then 2nd this past season. All of that at a program without a whole lot of tradition or the resources available at UW. Put the combination together and it could very well be a match made in heaven.

Wisconsin should also be plenty familiar with the turnaround Pearson has done in Houghton, Mich. as the Huskies own a 3-1-2 record against UW since he took over. Heck, UW found a way to avoid scheduling the Huskies very quickly once it couldn’t get beyond them anymore.

Pearson’s only knock is the the WCHA isn’t what it once was, and could he duplicate that kind of record at a higher level? His time behind Michigan’s bench certainly helps in understanding what the highest level of college hockey looks like.

Chris Chelios, Detroit Redwings assistant

Maybe this is a dream, but Chelios clearly has a desire to be a head coach some day and while he currently doesn’t have that kind of experience under his belt he has plenty going for him.

First off, few names are better known to Wisconsin Badgers hockey fans and American hockey fans in general. His status as an American hockey legend certainly will make recruits take notice. He’s also got plenty of ties to recruiting hotbeds in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.

However, what needs to be gauged is his level of interest in college hockey at all. It seems as if he is setting up a career at the NHL level and if he wants to keep going up that ladder, a move to the NCAA ranks may not make a lot of sense.

One clue is in the fact the Chelios has taken on roles with younger players and within the AHL affiliate of the Red Wings. He also has taken a role with the US national team for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. Team USA won the bronze medal via an 8-2 drubbing of Sweden in the 3rd place game at those championships.

Perhaps there is a twinge towards youth development and what better way to continue that than take on the challenge of UW’s rebuilding job.

Wisconsin should at least kick the tires and get a feeling for what the legend would like to do. So, put him on our list of names to be considered.

Fred Harbinson, Penticton (BCHL) head coach

You want outside the box thinking and a clean break from the past? One name stands out, and it does come with a small relationship with Eaves. Many American’s are likely to have never heard of Harbinson, but we can tell you there are few more respected in Canadian junior hockey circles than him.

Harbinson has a big time reputation as one of the best evaluators and recruiters of talent in the BCHL, finding both Canadian and American talent and getting them to little-known Penticton. If he can recruit at that kind of level, imagine what could be done at UW.

During his 9-year run with the Vees, Harbinson has a 332-102-10-29 record, while leading the team to one National Championship, one Western Canada Cup, three BCHL championships and four Interior Division championships.

Success at that kind of level is something players will listen to, and Eaves even reached out to gauge interest in him joining as an assistant last season. However, he chose to stay as a head coach and now that this position is open it could be wise to get him on board now.

Bringing back a championship culture is almost as important as recruiting abilities and ties to UW, and I’m going to take that over those other factors if I’m being honest. Harbinson’s team regularly sends players to NCAA D1 schools, so he gets the other factors involved in the game here.

Of all the names on this list, he might actually be the first call to someone not named Mark Johnson on this list.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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