"Did you watch us at the beginning of the year?"
Mike Eaves walked into what could be the Wisconsin head coach's final postgame press conference with his head down after the Badgers suffered a season-ending 5-2 defeat to Penn State where his team played one of its better games.
The Badgers out-shot Penn State and out-attempted a Nittany Lions team that took until January to be out-shot. Twice Penn State scored goals off of deflections. Twice Wisconsin hit the post.
Regardless, the game ended with two defensemen playing their last games in red and white.
"It's always tough when somebody's college career closes, when a chapter of their book is done," Eaves said. "So the first thing we do is acknowledge our seniors. The coaching staff gives them hugs. The guys follow through and express their thankfulness to those young men who have given four years of their lives."
Still, I go back to the question that Eaves asked me at the finale after I asked why he thought his team had made the progress it needed to his season. He's not wrong. Having seen the Badgers play in the beginning of the year and witnessed it get dominated 9-2, this group ended the last three weeks playing its best hockey. Luke Kunin is looking like a dominant player on a young underclassmen-heavy team and several more are growing in their development.
While Wisconsin was either tied or ahead in two third of the games, getting over the hump and turning close into victory remains out of reach like some magnificent skyline.
"The way we moved up and down the ice. The way we played with and without the puck grew immensely. That is something we will take with us next year," said Eaves.
Next year. That's the other elephant in the room with Eaves.
The hot seat remains scorching for the head coach, whose team finished the year 8-19-8 a season after winning a school record-low 4 games. (Off the ice tickets at Kohl Center fell off by over 2K a game as apathy set in Madison.) He wants to come back. He wants there to be more people watching the beginning of 2016-17.
Reflecting on the end of the season with Eaves was less a funeral and partly a look at the future.
"This group of kids, there were many times when we were behind and tied or came back and fought," he said. "They were a persistent group. They were resilient and I think that's one thing youth has. This group will have that in spades."
Whether or not Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez decides to close the book on Eaves' coaching career with the Badgers, the end of the year will give the team the most hope it has had during the past two seasons. The players have learned lessons throughout the year they can take for the future.
"I thought we were a pretty persistent team. We didn't give up at all. So, just always being like, persistent and staying on top of it, that'll be probably one of the lessons I've learned," said sophomore Cameron Hughes.
There are going to be regrets as well, which Eaves acknowledged this season.
"I think you always wish you could continue to play longer because this is the fun part of the season," he said. "And I think the longer you play, your kids grow immensely because there's so much focus and intensity on this time of year that you can grow in quantum leaps because of that focus."
He also addressed his job status.
"I think that the logical steps that we do every year is that I'll go home and meet with Jason King, my advisor, As we did last year and the year before and the year before, we'll talk about the season and how it went," said Eaves. "What we liked, what we didn't like, and we'll assess where we're at and how we can grow this thing."
By the time Eaves left the podium it was with his head up higher. Not too high. After all, his season still is over. The reflection seemed to be good, honest and helpful; a cathartic verbal hug acknowledging the time this season going by and that the Badgers will go on next season.
"That's what they should take from those young men. It goes by quickly. Enjoy every year, every moment, every weekend because it's gone in a heartbeat," Eaves said.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate