NHL: Wild coach Yeo not one to rest on success
Mike Yeo's corner office at Xcel Energy Center is simple. The only pictures in the room are small and of his two children playing hockey. He has a large desk but doesn't use much of it. This is how he prefers things. He is meticulous, detailed an...
Mike Yeo’s corner office at Xcel Energy Center is simple.
The only pictures in the room are small and of his two children playing hockey. He has a large desk but doesn’t use much of it.
This is how he prefers things. He is meticulous, detailed and, by his own admission, still a bit obsessive as he enters his fourth season as the Minnesota Wild’s head coach.
Under his watch, the Wild have improved each season. After a series of highs and lows, Yeo guided the Wild to their first playoff series win in a decade last season. His reward in the offseason was a three-year contract extension.
At 41, as he enters the 2014-15 season, the NHL’s youngest head coach suddenly finds himself with one of the most secure jobs in the league.
“I think that’s a dangerous thing, especially in this profession, to sit there and start to get comfortable and feel too good with where you’re at,” said Yeo, whose team began training camp Friday in St. Paul. “Obviously, money and contract security and all those things are nice for yourself and your family, but that’s not why I do what I do.
“My goal, and our goal, is to win the Stanley Cup. So I think to allow any satisfaction or comfort to creep in before that happens is a mistake.”
Yeo has been the youngest NHL coach since entering the league, and he still is by a wide margin. This season, the next-youngest coach, New Jersey’s Peter DeBoer, is 46. Yet only six other coaches have longer tenures with their current teams.
Until last season, Yeo always had a player on his roster older than him.
“All I know is, there’s starting to be more and more of a gap there,” Yeo said. “We’re getting younger players, and I’m getting older.”
It seems as if Yeo always has somewhere else to be, another task to squeeze into a busy schedule. He wears his green Wild hat with the bill curved down like an upside-down “U”. It partially hides the scar above his left eyebrow, which serves as a reminder to the type of player Yeo was.
Yeo was tenacious during a 10-year minor-league career from 1990 to 2000. He still holds the Houston Aeros’ franchise record for number of career fights.
He made his mark during his early days with the Wild as a defensive coach, not quite Jacques Lemaire-esque, but not too far off. He always has preached toughness and structure.
The team’s identity has changed since Yeo’s first season as coach, from a grinding, trapping style used to win low-scoring games to a team with offensive skill trying to dominate puck possession.
“I just want to be myself and create my own style or, at the very least, be something that’s right for our group,” Yeo said. “I think that with that, you as a coach, if you’re going to be successful, have to be willing to change and willing to be open-minded, based on what the team you have needs.”
Last year, the Wild needed composure, as the possibility of another late-season collapse began in March. When the Wild had lost nine of 12 games, Yeo was quick to defend his team. He told players to block out the noise and just keep practicing and playing the way they had been. Just like that, the Wild won six of their next seven games to secure their place in the playoffs.
“He never panicked,” Jason Pominville remembered. “We were in a tough spot, a lot of people were criticizing and trying to find answers, but he kept his calm and found different ways to challenge us and push us to another level. He found different ways, which is awesome as a player to see that.”
Though Yeo says he never wants to label his team, he talks regularly about establishing an identity.
His teams have to “skate in straight lines” and play structured defense. Several players say that helps serve as a reminder of what’s expected of them.
“His message comes across pretty good, and he finds different ways to get us going,” Pominville said. “The guys feed off that a lot. He’s the voice and leader of our group. We’re pretty excited for him to have that new deal. Knowing that he’s going to be here for a lot of years is fun.”