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Yeo’s even keel stabilizes Wild

Coach’s patient approach guides Minnesota into conference semifinals

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo looks down the Wild bench in during his team’s series-clinching Game 6 win over St. Louis on Sunday afternoon in St. Paul. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Coach’s patient approach guides Minnesota into conference semifinals

St. Paul — On the day he was introduced as the third coach in Minnesota Wild history, Mike Yeo used the words aggressivephysicaldetailedstructured and smart to describe the terms he wanted used when people spoke about the Wild from that point forward.

That was June 17, 2011 and now, a little more than 46 months later, each of those attributes was in play as Minnesota eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games in their best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff first round series.

With a 4-1 win over the Blues on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild closed out a playoff series — a victorious one — at home for the first time in franchise history.

The win comes two games after a 6-1 loss at home in Game 4 which sent Minnesota headed back to St. Louis for Game 5 having lost the home ice edge it had seized by splitting the first two games on the road.

But Yeo managed to maintain his team’s focus and confidence level enough to right the ship and avoid a trip back to Scottrade Center for Game 7.

The Wild rebounded from the blowout loss to outscore the Blues 8-2 over the series’ final two games and advance to face Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals.

“I think his ability to keep an even keel, his ability to understand what the team needs at certain points and provide that is invaluable,” Wild forward Matt Cooke said of Yeo. “I think he’s done a remarkable job dealing with this group and handling us through trials and through successes.”

In an ironic twist, one of the candidates Yeo beat out for the Minnesota job four years ago is St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock who is likely to be back on the open market soon after another disappointing early playoff exit for the Blues.

Yeo has seen the Wild through tough times in his tenure and, depending on who you want to believe, may have come perilously close to being replaced himself more than once. Admittedly, in early January of 2014 I had Yeo’s Wild coaching obituary already written with only the name of his replacement to be inserted.

But as was the case this season, Minnesota went on a remarkable second-half run to not only make the playoffs, but advance past the first round. While the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk is given most of the credit for this season’s turnaround, it could not have happened if Yeo hadn’t maintained the trust of his players in the dressing room.

Forward Jason Pominville, tied for second on the team in scoring in the series with five points (2-3–5), said that comes from Yeo’s is his ability to listen to his players.

“His approach is great with the players,” he said. “He’s a coach that the players enjoy playing for and I enjoy the way he listens to what the guys have to say. If you have something you can go talk to him and he’ll take note and he’ll listen to what you have to say.”

Assistant captain Zach Parise, who scored two of Minnesota’s four goals in Game 6, praised Yeo for his patience with the team.

“I think he’s done a good job of just keeping us level-headed, whether we’re playing really well or whether we can’t win a game,” Parise said. “The systems haven’t changed, the ideas, the approach hasn’t changed. He gives you the blueprint and we know it works when we do it well.”

Yeo said he considers himself “a lucky guy” to be surrounded by the coaching staff he has and said everything starts with the team’s leadership in the dressing room.

“Our leadership group is outstanding but we’ve got a bunch of guys that I consider winners,” Yeo said. “They’re willing to do the little things, things that go unnoticed, but they’re willing to do those things to win hockey games.

“There’s a lot of pride in that room.”

Minnesota Hockey Magazine Executive Editor Brian Halverson is a former member of the Minnesota Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. His work has been published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Miami Herald, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Hartford Courant, Dallas Morning News and ESPN.com.

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