MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves was reprimanded by the school for physical contact against one of his players, two newspapers have reported.
It’s been reported Eaves had a run-in with Badgers sophomore forward Alex Leavitt, a 19-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, at the team’s hotel after a loss at North Dakota on Nov. 23. In Thursday’s editions of the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times, Leavitt contends the first-year coach became abusive and pushed him.
The newspapers reported that the Wisconsin athletics department issued Eaves a letter of reprimand that will stay in his personnel file.
Leavitt originally took blame for the incident, and agreed to keep the matter private. But he spoke out this week, saying he doesn’t want to take blame “while I’m being pushed out the door,” he told The Capital Times
Leavitt has been a healthy scratch for the last three games. The team has said it was a disciplinary measure for a late penalty in a Feb. 7 win over Alaska-Anchorage, and for questioning the decision to remove him from the lineup.
“The reason that doesn’t make any sense is I don’t care about playing for [Eaves],” Leavitt told The Capital Times. “I don’t care if I play another game this season. I was having difficulty playing. I wasn’t comfortable playing. So playing was sometimes the last thing I wanted to do. Ice time was not a factor; it’s that I was isolated from the team and get a negative feeling from being on the team.”
Leavitt told the newspapers he wouldn’t quit the team this season. Reports claimed Eaves offered Leavitt a spot in the lineup for Friday night’s home game against St. Cloud State, but Leavitt declined.
In regard to the incident, Eaves told the newspapers Leavitt had broken a team rule; Leavitt denied it. In an interview with The Capital Times, Leavitt claimed:
Eaves admitted an error.
“Obviously, it’s wrong. And I admitted that in that incident,” he told The Capital Times. “That was part of our meeting. It was wrong. There’s a letter of reprimand in my file, and that’s duly documented. We know that.”
The school released statements from Eaves and athletics director Pat Richter on Thursday afternoon:
Eaves said: “After our game vs. North Dakota on Nov. 23, 2002, Alex Leavitt and I had a confrontation at the team hotel. Upon returning to Madison, I met with the Leavitt family, their representatives and athletic department administrators. I apologized for my actions at North Dakota. We met and left with a mutual understanding of what was expected of me, and I have fulfilled all of those requirements. I regret the incident at UND and feel we have put it in the past and established a plan for the future.”
Richter said: “Shortly after the confrontation, athletic department administrators, including myself, met with coach Eaves, the Leavitt family and their representative. We had open and candid conversations and reached an understanding of the next steps to be taken. Mike has totally adhered to the requests that were approved by all parties. Understandably, this has been a difficult season for the men’s hockey team, but I have complete confidence that Mike is the right coach for this program.”
The Badgers are in the middle of one of the worst seasons in their modern era, which dates to 1963. At 10-19-3 and 4-15-3 in the WCHA, they may set the school record for fewest overall wins in a season in which they played a full Division I schedule (the record is 12). With six regular-season games left, they’ll finish with the fewest league wins on record (the record is 11).
Leavitt’s father, John, told the Wisconsin State Journal the school originally offered guarantees to keep the matter private. They included anger-management sessions for Eaves and no “vindictiveness” toward Leavitt from the coach.
This is the second known case this season of a coach being disciplined for physical contact with a player. Clarkson coach Mark Morris was fired in November after an investigation into a confrontation with a player.
Morris has since filed a lawsuit against the school, seeking $10 million in damages for lost future earnings, $1 million in damages for breach of contract and to be reinstated as coach.