Davies, Smith shake off rough start to season, look for WCHA awards

first_imgDespite a rocky start to the 2009-10 season, Wisconsin junior Brendan Smith is the nation\’s top-scoring defensemen.[/media-credit]This weekend’s WCHA Final Five features five ranked teams loaded with talent, and the third-ranked Badgers have multiple players flaunting gaudy statistical seasons.Two of those skilled individuals, senior forward Michael Davies and junior defenseman Brendan Smith, are in solid position to earn postseason recognition for their efforts, but that did not seem likely after the first series of the season.It was before that series that Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves made one of the hardest decisions a coach ever has to make.October 16th marked the start of the 2009-10 season for Eaves and the Badgers, but that wasn’t the case for Davies.He watched the entire series in a suit and tie.According to Eaves, the senior St. Louis native needed to prove his work ethic to the coaching staff before he could see time on the ice.“It started in the summer because Michael wasn’t where we wanted him to be conditioning wise,” Eaves said. “We had a very honest talk, and unless he met a certain criterion he probably wasn’t going to play.”Smith, on the other hand, suited up for the season opener, but after a shaky night in his own zone, Eaves knew Smith’s play needed to improve, and he felt the first round draft choice needed to be held to the standards expected of a veteran defenseman.“It was a heart-to-heart talk, and it was hopefully a moment in his life that he’ll remember,” Eaves said. “It was time to hold him accountable as to what he needed to do for him to be effective — being responsible with and without the puck.“We didn’t want him to just be a one-way player.”Wisconsin lost that season opener to Colorado College, but the Badgers salvaged a point by earning a tie in game two.UW was in a fight to the bitter end with Denver to win the regular season WCHA title (a fight Denver won), and the failure to grab those points proved to be costly. But Eaves hoped the short-term damage would allow the two players to grow.“It might have hurt us that weekend to be quite honest with you, but the hope was that is would help us in the long run,” Eaves said.A tough pill to swallowComing into his senior year Davies had posted over 70 career points in three seasons.Thanks to his tremendous stick handling, Davies became known for his offensive skill in space, but his abilities weren’t on display at the start of his final season, and that was a difficult reality to accept.“It was obviously disappointing, coming back as a senior and not being in the lineup,” Davies said. “Coach said I didn’t deserve to be playing and looking back on it maybe I didn’t deserve to be out there.”Davies needed to better condition himself for the rigors of WCHA play, and once that was in place, his work in the offensive end still needed improvement. The UW coaching staff wanted to see more than the pretty dekes and toe-drags.They wanted to see grit.“The message was to get my nose in the corners and just be a tough player to play against,” Davies said about the conversation he had with Eaves.Smith’s meeting was admittedly emotional, and the benching took its toll on the talented defenseman.“It was very tough. That was the first time I was a healthy scratch in my life,” Smith said. “I was very disappointed. It was hard, but I think it helped me out. Coach and I talked a lot; we had a lot of meetings, and ultimately I knew I had to play better defensively.”Message receivedA week later Davies and Smith returned to action, and they have been mainstays in the lineup ever since.As UW prepares for St. Cloud State in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament, it’s Davies who leads the team in points with 48 and Smith who has been identified as a Hobey Baker award candidate.For Eaves, the growth of these two players from the rocky start of the season has been a joy to watch.“It has been very rewarding,” Eaves said. “Whenever a young man maximizes his potential it’s one of the best things about coaching.”Davies has improved his game along the boards while showing a willingness to deliver hits, and the offensive production has followed.He has been the facilitator of the power play, displaying flawless passes right to the sticks of his teammates. And he is currently riding a three-game scoring streak heading into round two of the WCHA playoffs.So, what role did the early season benching play in Davies’ breakthrough season?He says it’s one of the main reasons he’s improved.“Had I not sat those two games, I don’t think I’d be the productive player that I am today,” Davies said.Much like Davies, Smith has taken his game to another level after his removal from the lineup.“It definitely shook me,” Smith said of the benching. “But it motivated me to prove what kind of player I am.”Smith has accepted his defensive responsibilities and refined his game at the back end, but that hasn’t limited his offense.In fact, Smith, who recorded four points in the first round of the WCHA tournament, is the highest scoring defenseman in the country.Both players were sent an early season message; both players have excelled as a result. And according to both Badgers, the key to their success centers on one key attribute — consistency.“Anybody can get taken out of the lineup at any time and it’s a privilege to be playing,” Smith said. “Ever since [the benching] I’ve taken that to heart. Every practice and every game you have to be your best.”Davies echoed his teammate’s sentiments.“I used to be very inconsistent, I’d put up three points one night and then go pointless the next five,” Davies added. “It’s all about consistency at this level, and the reason I’ve been so good this year is because I’ve been consistent.”Postseason conference awards will be handed out Thursday before round two and both Davies and Smith will be in attendance, along with several other Badgers, hoping to be recognized by the WCHA.The seasons they each have compiled are noteworthy considering where it all began, but though the potential recognition is appreciated, Davies and Smith have their minds set on different award, one they can share with their teammates.“It’s an honor to be up for those individual awards,” Davies said. “But hopefully we can keep it going and eventually get that team award at the end of the season.”last_img

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