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Mike Eaves
University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey head coach Mike Eaves interacts with the audience during the Odette School of Business Breakfast with Champions speaker series.

Learning from Winners: Wisconsin hockey coach an inspiration

NCAA Hockey coach Mike Eaves, University of Wisconsin Badgers, was the inaugural speaker in a new series focusing on building winning organizations and teams.

Passion was the message that Mike Eaves brought to a group of business leaders, students and sports enthusiasts. Building a winning culture involves giving your employees/players the freedom to dream but also requiring them to take responsibility for turning those dreams into reality. “It’s OK to dream but you have to get off the couch and make them happen,” said Eaves.

When Eaves rejoined the Badgers in 2001 the program was struggling and attendance was dropping. The first question he asked himself was, “What kind of culture do we want to develop here?” Eaves added, “To me culture is a combination of behaviours, customs and traits”. Luckily he had a group of freshmen at the time who bought into what he was selling. Four years later, they were back in the Frozen Four and won it!

Citing an acquired talent that he learned during his Assumption high school days, Mike Eaves decided it was time to display his other talent and went to the table and picked up three balls and decided this was the best visual so that people could truly grasp what it is like to operate an NCAA hockey program. Juggling.

Maintaining all three balls in the air, sometimes precariously, comes in handy while trying to keep his hockey program afloat. Fighting with league teams for the best young talent, adding to the fight to try and convince those young players to honour their commitment to school, can feel overwhelming at times.

If that is not difficult enough, Eaves also faces the reality when the NHL signs his players, they are gone for good. “Under NCAA rules once a player goes pro he is gone for good” states Eaves.
The likes of Chris Chelios, Curtus Joseph, and Gary Suter are among a total of 65 Badger alumni who have skated for the NHL.

Eaves concluded with one of his secrets of developing a winning organization/team - provide your employees/players with what they need at each level of their development. “It is that awareness of what your people need that makes you a good leader.” He went on to say “yes there are times when they need building up but there are also times when they need knocking down a peg or two and you as a leader need to recognize each situation.”

This was the first event in a 6-part "Breakfast with Champions" speaker series being hosted for the Windsor-Essex County community by the Odette School of Business.  Learn more about upcoming events in this series.