If you weren’t careful at Wednesday’s Wild practice, you were bound to be sprayed by splinters.
Five minutes after Mikko Koivu marched down the tunnel angrily smashing his stick into shards of graphite after aggravating an injury, coach Mike Yeo slammed his stick across the visitors’ bench, threw it into the home bench and stormed off the ice before practice was even close to ending.
The scene came after an incensed Yeo halted practice for a second time. Fresh off an eighth Wild loss in 10 games, he gathered the down-and-out team at center ice and shouted at players during an expletive-laced admonishment that started with, “That’s the way we respond to a loss?” before he tomahawked his stick across the ice.
Sprinkling in 33 profanities, Yeo yelled at players for not being ready to practice and for having a “loser’s attitude” that included hanging heads, making excuses and pointing fingers.
“We’re not good enough to not have good practices,” Yeo intoned.
The outburst came moments after Yeo punished players with a brief skate without pucks and came right before he departed the ice animatedly to, as he said, “go break down video.” He left the rest of practice for his assistants to run.
“Yeozie finally lost it here,” veteran Thomas Vanek said. “He’s been pretty good with us, staying upbeat. We played well [in a 4-3 overtime loss to San Jose]. It’s not good when you lose a hockey game. That was his message. He didn’t like how some of us practiced and came out, so those things happen.”
Vanek said it wasn’t the worst eruption he has seen from a coach.
“I played for Lindy [Ruff in Buffalo] for a long time, so I’ve seen it before,” Vanek said. “[Yeo’s] frustrated just as is many guys in here, so I think we’ll be OK. It was maybe needed. We had a terrible game in Dallas. I thought we responded pretty well. We’ll respond again [Thursday against Chicago] and play hard.
“[Yeo’s] been great. There’s only so much you can say before you’ll kind of snap.”
‘I’m not going to accept that’
Yeo explained his display by saying, “We weren’t good enough” and that the team doesn’t have the luxury to have a “decent” practice, let alone a “bad” one.
“I’m not going to accept that,” the fourth-year coach said. “We played for the most part a good game, we lost the game, we come to the rink today, well, what are we going to have a practice like that? That’s not good enough.
“I know one thing — we can hang our heads, we can feel sorry for ourselves, we can point fingers, we can do whatever we want, but those are not the types of things that winners do, and those types of things do not help you get out of something like this.”
Chuck Fletcher didn’t attend Wednesday’s practice. Because of scouting the World Junior Championship and other obligations, the general manager has been to one practice and two of six games since the Christmas break.
But before the break, Fletcher said he believed in his team, his two goalies and his coach. He declined an interview request Wednesday, but a team source said twice Wednesday that Yeo’s job is safe and that Fletcher is searching for a goaltender.
But Yeo, who made clear after Tuesday’s game that he, too, was displeased with goalie Darcy Kuemper’s game, said it’s up to every player to elevate his individual game and stop pointing fingers.
Goalie Niklas Backstrom echoed that sentiment.
“I don’t know, there’s maybe a couple guys who are happy with their game, but there are a lot of players, myself included, who want to play better,” the Wild’s all-time winningest goalie said. “When things don’t go well for a team, it’s always easy to look left and right for excuses. But like [original Wild coach] Jacques Lemaire always used to say, ‘Just worry about yourself.’ ”
‘Maybe that’s what’s needed’
With a game Thursday night against the powerful Chicago Blackhawks, frustration is at a boiling point for a team stuck in a six-week rut. Veteran Kyle Brodziak said, “You hate to think it takes something like that to wake us up, but maybe that’s what’s needed.”
Perhaps, but Dec. 12 in Arizona, Yeo had a similar “get your act together” outburst at the start of practice. The Wild rallied to win in a shootout the next night. It’s 2-4-4 since.
What if this doesn’t work? Yeo said he’s not worried about losing the locker room, and Jason Zucker, coming off a three-point, eight-shot game, said he won’t.
“I know I [believe in him], and I guarantee I speak for every guy in this room,” Zucker said. “It’s a tough thing. Every team’s going to go through tough stretches, some longer than others and you hope to find a way to get out of them sooner rather than later.
“Coach Yeo has done a good job. The rest of the coaching staff has done a great job of making sure we’re buying into the system and doing what we need to do. The system works. We’ve seen it work numerous times a lot. Right now is a tough time; we’ve got to stick together and find a way to get out of it.”