CALGARY, ALBERTA – Moments after Mike Yeo was delivered the news late Saturday afternoon that he was no longer the coach of the Wild, Yeo’s loyal assistants spent 45 minutes in the coach’s office consoling their very down-and-out friend and boss.
“It was gut-wrenching,” said Darby Hendrickson. “It was extremely hard,” said Darryl Sydor, who came to Minnesota with Yeo from Houston in 2011. “It was a tough day. It’s been a tough couple days.”
“It was pretty touching and pretty personal,” said Andrew Brunette. “I think we’re all glad we got that opportunity because you wouldn’t be able to capture that again regardless if you see him later. You just appreciate being able to be with him at that time.”
In an awkward 48 hours, Yeo’s lieutenants — Sydor, Hendrickson, Brunette, Rick Wilson and goalie coach Bob Mason — and video coach Jonas Plumb and strength coach Kirk Olson had to switch allegiances to John Torchetti.
For Sydor, Wilson and Brunette specifically, they had to quickly learn Monday in Vancouver the sharp contrast between the frenetic Torchetti and composed Yeo on the bench.
“It’s different,” Sydor said. “You watch Mike in a game, he writes a lot down. Torch doesn’t write. He talks. Me and Bru have the earpieces, and we’re marking that and that and that [on video].”
Sydor said, laughing, “At one point, I didn’t know what the heck I was marking. He’s energetic and he just flies. So it’s like going to school again. I could read Yeozie like a book. Now I’ve got to re-learn.”
But if anybody gets it, it’s Torchetti. The promoted Iowa coach has spent most of his NHL coaching career as an assistant with four organizations.
Rick Dudley, now an executive with the Montreal Canadiens, said Torchetti nearly quit in Tampa Bay when he fired Steve Ludzik. Denis Savard, fired four games into the Blackhawks’ 2008-09 season, said Torchetti showed similar loyalty for him.
“He always had my back,” Savard said.
“To me, loyalty is everything in my life,” Torchetti said. “I’m always going to be loyal. No one’s ever going to say that I said something about you that I didn’t say to you.
“So I get they were loyal to Mike. They should be. The thing is, we were all loyal to Mike. My job down in Iowa was for Mike every day, and I’m loyal to his staff because they’re good guys.”
Torchetti said he would take five or six games before figuring out where the dynamic is going. There’s a chance staff roles change, but it’s the least of his worries right now.
“You have to be professional,” Sydor said. “This is our job.”
The assistants are just trying to keep their heads up after such a tough month. They think about all the things the past few weeks that possibly could have saved Yeo’s job — that late goal in San Jose, the tying goal in the waning minutes vs. Arizona, the blown two-goal lead at the Rangers, the double carom goal off one of their players against Dallas, the possible missed offside before Alex Ovechkin’s third goal against Washington.
“You understand it’s part of the business until it actually happens to you,” Brunette said. “Mike’s a wonderful person. You feel bad for him, and you’re in a position where you can only do so much as coaches. And we tried.”