General manager Chuck Fletcher’s long and exhaustive search for the third head coach in the Minnesota Wild’s franchise history is over.
With the NHL Entry Draft and free agency looming, Fletcher won’t get a break from making important decisions. But he will get some input on those tough choices from the new coach of the Wild, Mike Yeo, who is now the youngest coach in the NHL at 37 years old.
“Mike possesses a great passion for coaching and is a strong communicator,” said Fletcher. “He has been a winner at every level throughout his extensive coaching career.”
There’s no question that winning has followed Yeo wherever he’s gone. His teams have advanced to the finals five times in his 11-year coaching career in the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League. As a player, he won a Turner Cup as a member of the Aeros, and he also coached last year’s Wild prospects to an undefeated record at the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
It was 366 days ago that Yeo was tabbed to lead the AHL’s Houston Aeros, the Wild’s primary developmental affiliate. In his first year as a head coach, he led the Aeros to a 46-28-1-5 record and an appearance in the Calder Cup Finals. He accomplished this with a mix of veteran pros and young prospects looking to crack the Wild’s roster.
However, he had very few first round picks (Colton Gillies was the only Wild first rounder to play the full season with Houston) at his disposal, and he dealt with a slew of key players jumping on flights from Houston to St. Paul, including Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Casey Wellman.
Yeo had aspirations of becoming an NHL Head Coach, but even he admits his dream is being realized earlier than expected.
"I’ll be honest, I did believe in myself and I don’t think you really get anywhere without having that vision and doing everything you can to make it happen," said Yeo. "Everything aside, I am well aware that I’m pretty fortunate to be in this position at this age and I’m well aware that along the way I’ve had a lot of help. From the teams I’ve had to coach, to the people I’ve had a chance to work with, all have been huge contributing factors to getting me to this point."
After having his playing career cut short due to a knee injury, Yeo joined the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as assistant for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. After six years there, which included two Calder Cup appearances, Yeo became an assistant in Pittsburgh and was a part of two Stanley Cup Finals, including 2009 when he hoisted the grandest trophy in all of sports.
During his year with the Aeros, Yeo distinguished himself as a master of preparation and getting players to "buy into his system." He stressed team speed, getting into the offensive zone and managing the puck while there.
“He’s a great coach,” said defenseman Nate Prosser, who spent last season in Houston and is poised to challenge for a roster spot this fall. “He knows so much about the game, and the systems he brought in worked unbelievably.
With a lot of young guys, there are a lot of questions, and [Yeo and his Houston staff] have a lot of answers.”
He’ll inherit a team that he’s familiar with, including several of those players that are expected to be ready to make a full-time jump to the NHL.
"We’ve got a lot of good players in Houston that are knocking on the door," said Yeo. "Not only how they grew this year, but I think more than anything, what they did in the playoffs. I was there firsthand to watch it and to see the way that those guys paid the price … So, I’ve got a good understanding of what those guys bring and I expect them to really challenge for a real competitive training camp."
Yeo is excited to be the guy that will make those decisions and can watch those players flourish at the next level.
"I think one of the biggest ways [Houston prepared me for this position] was as far as planning your own team. Whether it’s going into training camp and having a good plan in place, [or] making sure that coming out of training camp you’re doing the right things to make sure that your team is playing the right way day in and day out. But also, you’re building the right identity, you’re building the right culture within your team, you’re building a team that wants to go to war with each other each and every day."