Eaves set to bring new life to St. Olaf hockey

The St. Olaf athletics department welcomed new leadership in several sports this school year, perhaps most notably men’s hockey coach Michael Eaves. Division I sports fans may recognize Eaves from University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he served as head coach for the past 14 years, leading the Badgers to an impressive 267-225-76 record. His arrival at St. Olaf marks a significant change not only for the coach, moving from the nationally recognized Big Ten conference to a small Division III school, but also for St. Olaf’s hockey program as a whole.

Eaves himself played hockey for UW-Madison before playing professionally in the NHL for the Minnesota North Stars and the Calgary Flames. A head injury knocked him into retirement at 28 years old, but he came back to play for the Flames during the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs, playing in eight games and helping Calgary to the Western Conference title.

He permanently retired after that season and has been coaching full-time for the past 30 years. Eaves’ career has taken him and his hockey-loving family all over the country and abroad, from Canada to Pennsylvania to Finland to Michigan, until landing them in Madison for the past 14 years. Eaves brings plentiful experience and connections to Northfield.

“The hockey world makes the world seem a lot smaller; I can walk into almost any rink, and I can guarantee you I’ll run into someone I know,” Eaves said.

The Eaves family isn’t completely new to the area; in fact, they are long-time owners of a cabin in Faribault where Eaves and his wife worked at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. His son Ben Eaves has served as St. Olaf’s strength and conditioning coach and will be joining his dad in leading the men’s hockey program this year, along with two volunteer assistant coaches.

“[Ben and I] had always talked about working together one day, and when the opportunity came up to do that here, we were very excited,” Eaves said.

St. Olaf certainly presents a different set of challenges and advantages compared to Madison. The team averaged a 43 percent win record over the past five years under former coach Sean Goldsworthy ’94. The biggest challenge for Eaves so far has been scheduling practices to accommodate players’ busy schedules, full of labs and work study jobs. A hockey rink on campus in the future will solve some problems and dividing the large squad into two teams has helped make practices more flexible for the busy student-athletes.

Eaves said he admires how the players “get it done. These guys have to balance school work, work study and intercollegiate athletics. It’s crazy.”

Excitement surrounds the upcoming hockey season, but it is still too early to say how the team will perform in the MIAC.

“At this point, it’s like we just picked up our cards and are looking at them,” Eaves said. “When we first started practicing, I actually had all the guys write their names on their helmets, because there’s 47 of them, and there’s a lot of names to learn. It’s been great getting to know them and focus on what we’ve got now before we look at recruiting.”

Regardless of how the season plays out, Eaves feels confident his players will grow, both on and off the ice.

“To coach, like the old English term, means to take someone from one place to another. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our players – take them somewhere farther, somewhere new.”