MADISON, Wis. — Mike Eaves, part of Wisconsin’s glory days of the late 1970s, will set out to create another such era as the Badgers’ head coach.
Eaves, 45, was tabbed Tuesday to replace Jeff Sauer, the winningest coach in WCHA history.
Pressure? Sure, but Eaves, who will leave his post as the head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, isn’t exactly looking at it that way.
“When your vocation is your vacation, that’s a great job,” said Eaves, a Wisconsin player from 1974 to 1978. “When the 15th and the 31st come around and you forget that it’s payday, you’ve got a great job. That’s been my life.”
Eaves, a first-team all-American in his junior and senior seasons, is the Badgers’ all-time leading scorer with 267 points. He helped Wisconsin to its second national title, in 1977.
Others in the running for the job were Wisconsin assistants Mark Johnson and Pat Ford; and Don Granato, a former Wisconsin player coaching Worcester of the AHL.
But Eaves was the choice to be the Badgers’ third coach in the last 36 years.
“The process has culminated in what we think is an outstanding person to take over the ranks,” Wisconsin athletics director Pat Richter said. “There’s not many people who have led up the program, starting with John Riley, Bob Johnson and then Jeff Sauer, and we expect that the next person can build on the success that they’ve had and take the program to the level that we all hope to achieve.”
Eaves was honored as one of the WCHA’s top 50 players in celebration of the league’s 50th anniversary this season. He was the league MVP in 1978 and is eighth on the all-time WCHA scoring list.
The Denver native played eight seasons in the NHL, including stops in Minnesota and Calgary.
Prior to his stay with USA Hockey, he had assistant coaching jobs with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames. He was the top man at Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League, the Hershey Bears of the AHL and Shattuck St. Mary’s High School in Faribault, Minn.
His collegiate coaching experience is limited to assistant positions at St. Cloud State (1987-88) and Division III Wisconsin-Eau Claire (1986-87).
Teaching the game’s finer points is one of the things Eaves said he cherishes.
“As a coach, one of the things I really enjoy doing is being able to take a skill and break it down into its parts, give it to a player and see him understand what it’s all about,” Eaves said. “So many times coaches teach systems and it becomes about systems, but guys want to get better. I think that’s one of the things that makes the game fun, coming to the rink and knowing that they are getting better and you’re able to spend one-on-one time with them and they can see improvement in their own game. That’s fun for them and the coach.”
Eaves will take over a Wisconsin program that finished this season 16-19-4 overall and in fifth place in the WCHA. Sauer announced in January that he would retire at the end of this season, and the school conducted a national search.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Eaves will receive a five-year contract worth around $136,000 annually.
“I think that part of our plan is to have the boys understand that we will form a foundation that’s built on good habits,” Eaves said. “We will play hard because by playing hard you give yourself a chance to win. We will play smart because by playing hard and smart your percentages of winning will go up. If you add on to that, play as a team, the byproduct is going to be there. You don’t have to worry about winning if you do those things … the byproduct is going to be there.”