Mike Eaves' reign behind the Wisconsin men's hockey bench has ended, UW Athletics Director Barry Alvarez announced Friday. The decision comes just one day after the Badgers' season ended with a 5-2 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, which wrapped up back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1995-97.
Eaves finishes his tenure with a 267-225-64 (.538) career record, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, a national title in 2006, a national runner-up finish in 2010 and conference tournament championships in 2013 and 2014. However, the Badgers are just 12-45-13 over the past two seasons and have labored through three losing campaigns in the last five years, which made his dismissal necessary.
"These are never easy decisions, but I've got a responsibility to the university, to our fans and to everyone else," Alvarez told UWBadgers.com's Andy Baggot. "It's just not acceptable at Wisconsin to have a hockey program in this state where we are right now."
"Our fans and everyone expect more," he added. "With our facilities and what we have to sell, we feel we should be at a championship level."
The fans' displeasure is reflected in the dwindling attendance at the Kohl Center. This season saw a lot of red seats at hockey games, in large part because the season ticket base declined 23 percent from last year as apathy set in in Madison.
Wisconsin has also struggled to hold onto its top players and recruits in recent years, as Nate Wells pointed out in his great look at the current state of the program:
It would be better if Kunin was not an exception. Of the three big names in a rebound recruiting class brought in this year to beef up the Badgers, he's the only one on the roster. 2015 first round pick Brock Boeser is lighting it up for North Dakota and Luke Opilka went to the OHL when he was already on campus.
Jack Dougherty, Christian Dvorak, Keegan Ford and Morgan Zulinick could also be on this year's team before joining the fans leaving or decommitting. (It's hard to think how much worse the season would have gone if the rumors that Kunin was joining this list by leaving the program in November turned out to be true.)
An unbalanced roster has plagued the Badgers as well and the problem has grown in recent years. Eaves recruited in four-year cycles: Growing pains in the first two years with a youth-heavy roster before hopefully transitioning into a national competitor in the last one or two years, rinse and repeat. As a result, the Badgers' roster is now totally out of whack, with 22 underclassmen compared to just seven upperclassmen this year.
While the job to re-build the Badgers will be sizable, Wisconsin's next head coach—be it Mark Johnson, George Gwozdecky, Don or Tony Granato, Mark Osiecki or someone else—won't be left with a barren cupboard. Freshman forward Luke Kunin, junior forward Grant Besse, freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik and others are good building blocks and the Badgers have some promising recruits in the pipeline and the allure of playing in Madison has remained strong even through t
The past two years have been tough for Wisconsin, there is no doubt about that, but they should not tarnish Eaves' legacy. In addition to being the all-time leading scorer in program history, he brought a national title back to Madison and has churned out NHL talent throughout his tenure after turning around the struggling program he inherited in 2002-03.
But, this move did need to happen. Now the road back begins.