On to Wisconsin: Janesville coach aids UW success
Matt Walsh of Janesville has not enjoyed a lot of "me time" lately.
Walsh's whirlwind lifestyle started after he made a phone call to University of Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Eaves last November.
Wisconsin needed an assistant coach, and Walsh, a freshman defenseman on Wisconsin's 1983 NCAA national championship team, was encouraged to apply.
Walsh was coach-in-chief for USA Hockey's Central District since 1995, coordinating seminars for USA Hockey's coaching education program across a six-state area.
Walsh's coaching resume includes being head coach of Team Wisconsin from 1991-96 and in 1998 and 1999. He was also an assistant coach from 1988-90. From 1994-96, Walsh was head coach at Stoughton High School.
Walsh also coached in the Janesville Youth Hockey program, and his oldest son, Connor, is a freshman on the Janesville Bluebirds co-op high school boys hockey team. Walsh lives in Janesville with his wife, Ann, and their three boys.
"Some friends said I needed to call (Eaves)," Walsh said. "They said I'd be a perfect fit.''
One call led to another, and after two weeks and a long interview, Eaves tabbed Walsh interim assistant coach for UW defensemen.
Walsh has been on the run since. His coaching days are filled with staff meetings, team meetings, individual or group player meetings, practice, individual tutoring after practice and games each Friday and Saturday, and the commute to and from Madison.
"Sometimes I get a Sunday off," Walsh said.
Good things happened immediately after Walsh joined UW.
Wisconsin, which was floundering at 1-5-2 overall and 1-3-2 in the WCHA, launched a 10-game unbeaten streak. After a tie and a 3-2 victory over Bemidji State last weekend, the Badgers are 12-9-7 and 9-6-7.
"You'd like to think you had something to do with it," Walsh said of the Badgers' winning streak. "The kids were behind the eight ball, but everybody stepped up.''
Walsh said coaching the UW defensemen has been a pleasure so far.
"They are receptive and want to work," Walsh said. "They want to be more successful as a defensive unit.''
Last weekend at the Kohl Center, Walsh helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1983 team's national championship.
Walsh has learned to appreciate playing on one of six of UW's national championship teams through the 50-year history of the UW men's hockey.
"You realize how special it is now and let my family see,'' Walsh said.
"I'm just thankful for it—it's the best time in your life. A small group of people accomplish something that is very hard to do.''
The Badgers have eight regular-season games left, beginning with Friday's game with Minnesota at the Kohl Center and the outdoor game with the Gophers at Chicago's Soldier Field on Sunday.
A strong finish should help Walsh shed the interim tag. The job reopens in April.
"I don't know what will happen in spring," Walsh said. "I don't know what direction Coach Eaves will take.''
Walsh thinks he has gone in the right direction—back to Wisconsin.
"It's been great to have played at Wisconsin and to coach there," Walsh said.
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.