Wild coach Mike Yeo has tough-as-nails edge

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo directs some of his players. (Fred Greenslade/USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo directs some of his players. (Fred Greenslade/USA TODAY Sports)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 PM ET

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Don't let Mike Yeo's glasses or his even-keeled delivery while speaking fool you.

The Minnesota Wild head coach may look bookish, but has a tough-as-nails edge to him.

“He’s definitely capable of yelling,” Wild forward Kyle Brodziak said with a grin. “He likes to keep his emotions in check, but when the time’s right, he knows when it’s time to give the guys a kick in the back end.”

Capable of more than just a kick in the butt, according to Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett, who coached Yeo for five years with the Houston Aeros, where Yeo’s playing career reached its apex.

“He was a sneaky tough lefty that surprised a lot of dance partners,” Tippett said. “A great teammate and had a will to win that your captain has to have if your team is going to successful.”

“I was never a street-fighting type of guy,” Yeo said, chuckling about his minor-league career which had nearly four times the number of penalty minutes than points. “But I was going to do whatever I could to be a player and, most importantly, I wanted to be a good teammate. For sure, if I was challenged, I was ready to do what I had to do, but more often than not, when I was getting into a fight, it was because I was sticking up for one of my teammates.”

Wild players have heard about Yeo’s scrappiness, and will now need some of their own to force a Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Wild, who trail the defending Stanley Cup champs 3-2 heading into Tuesday’s do-or-die clash, also know of Yeo’s firmness and his stay-the-course attitude through ups and downs.

Since taking the head coaching gig in Minnesota at the start of the 2011-12 season, Yeo has become known to be steadfast in his beliefs with the way things are done. It’s how he believes the team has reached this far in the playoffs and how they have a chance to extend the series.

“He’s had quite a bit of success, I’d say, for not being around a long time,” Brodziak said. “He was an assistant coach with a Stanley Cup (win). His first year in the minors, they went all the way to the final.

“He’s been great for us, believing in our team. The approach he wants our team to take and the style of hockey we want to play never differs. It’s easy to change when things aren’t going well and I think it was important we stuck with the same plan, the same type of play that suits our group really well.”

Yeo, 40, who hails from Toronto and played junior in Sudbury, knew while still a player the coach’s whistle was his destiny.

Injuries — he had four shoulder surgeries and one on a knee — made it start earlier than he expected.

“Obviously I wanted to play in the NHL and had dreams just like every other kid. But for whatever reason, I just always kinda knew it would be something that I would end up doing,” Yeo said. “In those days, when I was playing for Tip, as a 22-year-old kid still trying to make it, I remember coming back from practice or games and writing things down, whether it was drills or things that he said or systems, whatever. At that time, I was already trying to prep myself for what I knew was down the road.”

The defining moment came during his one season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 1999-2000. A knee injury meant serving as an assistant coach for Glenn Patrick for the rest of the year.

Yeo moved behind the bench on a full-time basis the next season, spent six years as an assistant for the Pittsburgh Penguins top affiliate before Michel Therrien brought him from the minors to the big team. After four years with the Penguins, including the 2009 Stanley Cup winning run with Dan Bylsma as bench boss, he left to take the head coaching job in Houston, which was now the Wild’s AHL affiliate.

One year later, he was given the head coaching gig in Minnesota.

“Young and naïve,” he admitted of taking a NHL head coaching job at age 37. “When I left Pittsburgh, I knew I was leaving a good situation, but I believed that I was ready to be a head coach. With the fact I didn’t have experience as a player in the NHL, I knew it was important to make sure I got head coaching experience and prove that I could be that guy, so the American league was the perfect avenue for that.”

Under Yeo’s watch, the Wild have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons, losing to the Blackhawks in the first round last year and reaching the second round this spring.

And that sneaky tough winger not only believes his team is only scratching the surface of what’s possible, but so is he.

“I’m a much different coach from my first year here. I’ve learned I have a lot further to go and a lot more to learn,” Yeo said. “I’ve changed some of the ideas I had about the way to play the game. Part of that is the game has changed a little bit, but more than anything else it’s things like bench management, how you hold players accountable, the way you use different players through the course of a game.

“This are things that it takes experience to learn.”

On Twitter: @SunRandySportak


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