Wild look for continued growth with Yeo returning at the helm

Winning and developing young talent were two goals for the Minnesota Wild when Mike Yeo was hired in 2011. With those objectives taking focus, the Wild brought him back with a three-year contract.

Under head coach Mike Yeo's guidance, Minnesota is 104-82-26 and has had two playoff appearances in his three seasons as coach.

Dennis Wierzbicki / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher hired Mike Yeo in 2011 to be third coach in franchise history, Fletcher gave Yeo two tasks.

Bringing in Yeo from the team's minor-league affiliate in Houston, Fletcher wanted Yeo to win games, of course. The second objective -- nearly as important as the first -- was to win while developing the team's growing group of highly regarded prospects.

The job Yeo has done with both goals has led him to where he is today, the head coach of the Wild for the foreseeable future after signing a three-year contract extension.

"It is a contract extension that was richly earned through a lot of blood, sweat and tears this season," Fletcher said Friday, later adding: "When I look at Mike right now and the job he and the staff have done, we've become a team that is recognized around the league. We've started to create an identity of being a hard-working, fast and resilient team. That has been very critical to our success and establishing that identity.

 

 

"We've also become a team that's won a lot of hockey games, and again, we've done so while playing a lot of young kids, all of whom have developed nicely under Mike and the staff's direction. We couldn't be happier."

Yeo's objectives were two-fold, as well, when he became an NHL head coach for the first time in 2011. Wins would ultimately judge his tenure, but the end result would come from a process in developing an identity for the team, and changing the culture of a team that had missed the playoffs three straight years.

Yeo's identity took full focus this year as his defensive-first style helped the Wild overcome an unsettled goaltender situation and recover from multiple deficits in the postseason to advance to the second round for only the second time in team history. Along the way, the culture changed too.

"When I talk about creating a culture, it's about being a winner," Yeo said. "I think the biggest thing that winners have is an attitude where they're never satisfied. I think that's a real challenge for us. There's been a lot of talk. There's been a lot of pats on the back since the end of the season about the job that we did, the good season that we had. And that's nice, and hopefully our group we all use that as far as a confidence builder.

"That said, we have to make sure that we understand that the work starts right now for next year and we have to want more than what we got this year. I do believe that we have a group that is extremely committed to winning and they're willing to put in the work. When we talk about that attitude never being satisfied, they've proven that."

Yeo will continue to lead the charge because of the winning.

Under Yeo's guidance, Minnesota is 104-82-26 and has had two playoff appearances in his three seasons as coach. The Wild's 98 points this season were the 11th most in the NHL, and Minnesota is 10th in the league in wins the past two seasons.

Yeo, the league's youngest coach, has grown along the way.

"As far as me personally, there is so much to be learned in this profession when it comes to the motivational part, the team building part, the putting players in roles and making everybody feel they're absolutely contributing, and especially the bench management, that's a huge part as well," Yeo said. "There's a number of little areas. I do believe I've learned a lot about the game, the NHL game. It's ever-changing and I believe we're changing with it. But I think more than anything else, the roles and the things that are required from a head coach."

There were bumps along the way, even this past season. The Wild had lost six straight games at the end of December. The rumors of Yeo's job status were rampant.

Yeo said he didn't feel any additional pressure in the last year of his contract, but he heard the criticism and rumors during the season.

"There's no question I did feel more external pressure and I don't think my first year I would have been able to handle that either," Yeo said. "So I think that was an important step for me in my experience and my development as a coach is dealing with that type of pressure and just understanding how important it was for me not to get caught up in that, for me to make sure I was focused on my job and trust the people around me, and trust if I do things the right way, then things will get taken care of."

When the outlook for the team's season and Yeo's future looked bleakest, Minnesota opened the 2014 calendar year with a 12-2-1 record in the next 15 games with forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, goaltender Josh Harding and defenseman Jared Spurgeon out of the lineup for a number of those games.

After falling as far as 10th in the Western Conference, the Wild recovered to earn the West's top wild-card spot.

"I'm not sure we had a full sense of who we were till down the stretch when everybody came together," Fletcher said. "I think the job that everybody did in January was tremendous, from the players to the coaches to the support staff and holding everything together. The funny thing, at the exact point of the year when you thought we'd fall apart, we actually became a team. There's a lot of work that went into that and Mike and his staff deserve a lot of credit."

The Wild then rallied from 2-0 deficits in each of its two playoff series, and beat the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1 after coming back from a 3-2 deficit. Minnesota's season ended on an unfortunate bounce off the end boards in Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.

"Mike is certainly the only guy that was going to be here," Fletcher said. "It became apparent to me over the year the way he handled the distractions, the way he handled the different situations that were thrown at him. Let's be honest, how many head coaches had to deal with what he dealt with in terms of goaltending. We had four different goaltenders that were No.1 at some point in time. We had a lot of young players. We had a very young defense corps and he had to constantly integrate new pieces into the lineup.

"I think Mike and his staff did a terrific job. The results were there. To make the playoffs, to finish with 98 points, to make the second round, obviously is a good season. But more importantly, the way we did it."

Just the way Fletcher and Yeo set out in 2011 to rebuild the Wild.

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