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Mike Eaves, who coached Wisconsin to the NCAA title in 2006, was 21-44-8 in three seasons as head coach at St. Olaf. (St. Olaf College photo)

New arena is Eaves' legacy as he departs St. Olaf

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — For years, Mike Eaves and his wife have had a nightly ritual at their lake place in southern Minnesota. “Wine at Nine” is when they pour themselves glasses of Merlot, sit by the fireplace and gaze out at the water (or ice) of Circle Lake, enjoying the tranquility.

It’s a scene they may be able to replicate in Eaves’ new job, but the body of water — Lake Erie — will be significantly larger.

On Monday, June 17, the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League announced that Eaves will leave St. Olaf College after three seasons to take over behind the bench of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ top affiliate.

“The opportunity was out of the blue, and I was caught off guard by the internal excitement I felt,” Eaves said on Wednesday from Vancouver, where he is attending the NHL Draft. “With the on-campus arena being complete and my bride being on board, we are off on another adventure.”

Eaves coached Wisconsin for 14 seasons and won the 2006 NCAA title there before being dismissed in 2016 following back-to-back last place finishes in the Big Ten. He was 21-44-8 at St. Olaf, and the Oles finished last in the MIAC last season.

While there won’t be any championship banners hanging from the rafters of St. Olaf Ice Arena to commemorate the 36 months Eaves spent at the school, the fact that there are rafters, and a place on campus called St. Olaf Ice Arena, will be looked back upon as Eaves’ legacy with the Oles.

“I don’t want folks to get too caught up in the record, because Mike was a big part of us getting this rink on campus, and I think that’s the difference-maker for the future of St. Olaf men’s and women’s hockey,” said St. Olaf athletic director Ryan Bowles. Eaves spearheaded the $6 million fundraising campaign for the arena, which holds just under 1,000 and opened last season.

“He played a large role in that,” Bowles said. “And I think also about what he added to the St. Olaf community and the surrounding community representing St. Olaf hockey. We couldn’t be more proud of all of those wins off the ice, if you will.”

Other MIAC coaches say that having a name like Eaves at St. Olaf, and his help in getting the new facility there, was good for the conference’s profile in the Division III hockey world.

“I wish he’d stay in the league because I think he’s great for the league, but he’s a hard worker and always trying to get better. Good for him if he wants to get back in the pro game,” said Hamline head coach Cory Laylin, whose Pipers battled the Oles to a draw in St. Olaf Ice Arena’s grand opening in January. “He did a great job getting that new rink, which helps our whole league, and it’s been great having a guy of his stature in the league.”

Bowles said he hopes to be “thorough but swift” in finding and naming the Oles next coach sometime within the next month to six weeks. He received a resume from a potential applicant just 21 minutes after the announcement of Eaves’ departure, which they feel is reflective of the program’s prospects with a new rink to call their own.

“I’m excited for Mike, but also optimistic about the future of St. Olaf hockey. With this rink on campus there’s no reason that we can’t compete at a high level and it’s a very attractive job now that we have the facility situation worked out.”

St. Olaf last won the MIAC hockey title a decade ago in 2008-09. St. Thomas, which will make a much-publicized exit from the conference after being voted out, has won or shared the MIAC hockey title six times in the past eight seasons.