ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 21: Mike Eaves of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during the semifinal game of the Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Championship against the Penn State Nittany Lions on March 21, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Badgers hockey at crossroads with Mike Eaves not retained

After winning just 12 games in the past two seasons, what was long rumored became official on Friday morning. Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves will not be retained by AD Barry Alvarez.

It was a brutal end to a 14-year career as the head coach, which included a 2006 national championship, a runner-up finish in 2010 and 26 NHL players. He leaves Wisconsin with a career record of 267-225-66.

Of course, Eaves’ legacy isn’t just about his time as a head coach. He is still the all-time leading scorer in program history, was a three-time captain, a two-time MVP and a member of the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.

All of that probably bought him this past season, given UW went just 4-26-5 in the 2014-15 season.

“After last season, because of the success we’ve had in the past, we felt that Mike had earned a chance to get the ship righted,” said AD Barry Alvarez. “But now, after back-to-back seasons like the last two we’ve had, I feel we need a change.”

Eaves couldn’t get the right mix going this season and his team won just four more games than it did last season. Without the marked improvement most were hoping for, and few believed was coming, Eaves had to go.

Eaves’ contract was not renewed on the rolling annual basis last offseason, giving a clear signal it was win now or be gone. Clearly that didn’t happen.

Now the attention turns to where this once-proud program goes. Call it a crossroads for a program that has six national championships and 12 Frozen Four appearances in its history. However, that is exactly the point — its all history, and UW hasn’t been to the Frozen Four in six years’ time.

The next move needs to be the right one, but just where does the program turn?

“Our fans and everyone expect more,” Alvarez said. “With our facilities and what we have to sell, we feel we should be at a championship level.”

One of the main things to keep in mind is the perception that Eaves just wasn’t good enough for the job. That simply wasn’t true, and there’s a big difference between needing to find someone better and needing to find someone new. The Badgers need the latter at this point.

Few coaches in hockey have the resume that Eaves has, but just because you are a good coach doesn’t mean the timing or situation is right. In the case of Eaves, it was his lack of foresight in a changing modern game of college hockey that really cost him.

This program has gotten stale, resting on its laurels on the ice and on the recruiting trail. UW has lost out to major junior hockey and the NHL on many prospects in the past six years. Eaves and his staff just simply couldn’t figure that out, and it hurt them in a major way this past season as prized netminder Luke Opilka chose the OHL over the Badgers en route to an NHL career.

Wisconsin had no backup plan for what should’ve been seen, and was sent scrambling to find Matt Jurusik in a pinch. He would finish this season with a .892 save percentage and a 3.46 goals against average.

Opilka, on the other hand, has a 2.67 GAA and a .906 save percentage with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.

That is but one example of plenty of players who either skipped college hockey all together or were done in a year or two at UW under Eaves. Each time the coaching staff seemed to be caught off guard.

So, as the Badgers look for a new direction for its program, it would be wise to find someone that gets what is happening on the recruiting trail in modern college hockey.

Is that person there with ties to the history and the future of the Badgers program? Or is it time for UW to clean house and look outside its long tradition for a change? After 14 years with Mike Eaves, this next hire is make or break for UW’s future as a powerhouse men’s hockey program.

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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