It was very clear Friday night that Mike Yeo was sick to his stomach when he learned that Patrick Schoonover, the 14-year-old from Apple Valley who played in the Eastview Hockey Association, died while playing in a tournament in Brainerd.
Yeo has two teenage children, so this hit home for Yeo, who is all about his family when he’s not at the rink. So it really wasn’t a shock after today’s 2-1 win over the Stars that Yeo emerged from the coach’s office here in Dallas and began his press conference by talking about Patrick and the boy’s family before addressing the Wild’s victory.
“Since we heard about what happened yesterday, Patrick, it’s been him, his family, the Eastview community, they’ve been in our thoughts,” the Wild coach said. “So it’s a tough thing. It’s a game that brings a lot of joy and happiness to a lot of us. So when something like that, something terrible, happens within it, it definitely hits you hard.
“I just hope that we can be there any way that we can.”
And knowing Yeo, he means it from the bottom of his heart. My best as well to Patrick’s friends and family and everyone affected by his tragic loss.
No easy way to transition, of course, but on to the trivial blog about today’s game.
Not a good first half for the Wild, but unlike the last three road games, the Wild didn’t unravel in the second. It stuck with it and finally discovered its game after getting a spark from a huge Ryan Carter to Erik Haula tying goal.
After the goal with 4:19 left in the second period, the Wild put together four or five real good shifts in a row and easily could have carried a lead into the third period. Didn’t matter, because 40 seconds in, Kari Lehtonen hand-delivered a Charlie Coyle rebound right onto a driving Mikael Granlund’s stick, and the centerman, like his Finnish countryman Haula, scored his second goal of the season.
Darcy Kuemper, pulled Thursday against Buffalo after allowing two goals on two shots, responded impressively with 27 saves for his second road win of the season and the team’s third. Kuemper stopped all 11 shots he faced in the third and made a number of big saves early to hold the game scoreless and then the deficit to 1-0. It was only the Wild’s second win at Dallas in its past 21 visits. The Stars have been poor at home this season, going 1-4-4, but the Stars had the better of the play by far in the first half of the game.
But the Wild, despite being shorthanded from a defensemen point of view with Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin sick and Zach Parise missing his fifth straight game, gutted out a hard-fought win. Ryan Suter was great, logging 31-plus minutes and being plus-2. Trust me, Jared Spurgeon is still very much hurting, but he played his second straight game, and one game after a career-high eight shots and a goal, he blocked seven shots today and logged almost 28 minutes.
The Wild blocked 28 shots and the Wild was outshot (28-22) for the first time this season.
“I was eager to get back out there,” Kuemper said. “That Buffalo game was weird. Bad break on the first one, bounces off a body, and then beat by a good shot, and all of a sudden your night’s over (laughing), so it was kind of a tough one to get into. But it definitely left me hungry. I was eager to get back out there. I was even eager to get on the ice for practice yesterday.”
On the win today, Kuemper said, “Without a morning skate and traveling, maybe we were a little heavy legged, but we stuck with it and we did a good job defending. Great boxouts allowed me to see it. We didn’t change our game like we were when we were getting ourselves in trouble on the [four-game] losing skid. Got that goal [from Haula] and it gave us life.”
Yeo was real pleased with Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom has a “good chance” of starting Sunday against Winnipeg in a second of a back-to-back. After seeing the way Kuemper responded, I can’t imagine the Wild will mess around with its goaltending now for contractual reasons, but one more game now, and Kuemper requires waivers to play in Iowa. And there’s no chance the Wild would ever, ever, ever risk waivers with Kuemper, it’s $1 million No. 1 goalie.
So, what’s this likely mean? After Josh Harding’s conditioning stint, the Wild will either keep three goalies on its roster initially or place Harding on waivers and try to get him to Iowa for the time being. GM Chuck Fletcher did tell me in New York in late October that was a possibility.
After the game, Yeo kind of let slip a little motivational message he has given Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker in recent days during the Wild’s struggles. Yeo didn’t know he was letting it slip, but since Coyle basically repeated Yeo’s words verbatim to me prior to us talking to Yeo, it was pretty obvious that Yeo met with the now former “young guys.”
The Wild’s former “young guys” didn’t play well during the four-game skid, from the young goalie on out. As I said when Parise got hurt, Guy Lapointe told me now the Wild will get to find out which of its kids will drive the bus rather than being on the outside pushing.
The problem with youngsters though is they often go with the flow of the rest of the team, and since none of them proverbially stepped up, Yeo basically said enough is enough and clearly sat them down.
Asked about the “young guys” after the game, Yeo said, “I’ll let you guys keep doing it, but I’m going to quit referring to them as young guys because they’re part of our team. They’re just players on your team. They’re no longer young guys. These guys are on second lines, first PPs, whatever. We need these guys not to be young guys and get excited when they play. These guys have a lot of potential and the reason that they’re in high spots in our lineup is because we know what they’re capable of, so we count on them to do it regularly.”
The response has been impressive.
One game after Niederreiter’s hat trick and Coyle’s two assists, Haula scored the tying goal Saturday, Coyle assisted on Granlund’s winner and Yeo tapped on the shoulders of Coyle, Zucker and Granlund to defend the game in the final minute with a Stars extra attacker on.
Now, Coyle was beating himself up bigtime after the game for two failed clears in that final minutes, but Coyle echoed his coach, saying, “We’ve got to know that we’re a big part of this team, so we’ve got to be ready for that. We want that. We want to be the guy to be called on at the end there to help your team win.”
For a second consecutive game, the Niederreiter-Granlund-Coyle line was arguably the Wild’s best, which means there’s a chance Parise will be reunited with Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville when he returns from a concussion. Yeo said there’s a “possibility” that happens Sunday.
That could drop Zucker, who played another strong game Saturday in all areas (except the power play, down to the third line. Maybe that’ll somehow motivate a struggling Thomas Vanek, who still has one goal and has taken 32 shots in 16 games (14 of those came in two games, meaning he has 18 in the other 14 games).
“Guys are getting what they deserve,” Yeo said. “You look at Zuck’s season so far and he’s got a long way to go still, there’s no question. We’re going to keep pushing him, but he’s gone from the fourth line to getting a regular spot on the penalty kill, getting an opportunity on the power play, playing on the first line and that’s what happens when you go and you do the right things and you play the right way. Like I said, we’re going to have to make sure that we continue to keep pushing him because we’re not completely satisfied with where he’s at. He’s playing really well but we want to keep pushing him to get better and we’re going to do the same for the rest of the group.”
Haula, whom Yeo has not been happy with really since training camp, had a good game and scored a huge goal to spark the Wild today. Carter set him up with an impressive play all around. They spent 59 seconds on the ice that shift and mostly defending, so they had to be tired. But Carter read a weak pass by Brenden Dillon perfectly, picked it off and set up Haula’s first goal since Oct. 25.
On Haula, Yeo said, “I saw him pick it up through the course of the game. I think that we’re trying to work with him to bring the consistency into his game and understanding I look back to a couple games ago here in Buffalo and I thought he did some good things and there was some progress made, but there were some other areas that didn’t fit with his identity. He’s got to be a really good defensive player. He’s got to be hard in his battles and I thought that he took an understanding that he needed to pick that part up into tonight and so the fact that he got rewarded with the goal was a plus.”
Carter by the way has nine points, tied for second on the team. Pretty impressive for a guy who logs 9:30 a game.
Carter said, “With some personnel out and playing on the road, it’s a difficult situation. But in this league, there’s no time for excuses, so it’s nice that we came in on the road, which I think we needed. To get a road win, third-period win, it’s huge for us.”
Haula said, “We stayed patient and we had great life on the bench tonight. That’s really carried us to victory. It’s a great road win. We needed that. It’s good for whole the team after the emotions we have gone through for the last stretch here.”
Yeo, by the way, still has not officially said Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin tested positively for the mumps. One would think they did because the team, staff and broadcasters have the ability to get re-vaccinated, but regardless, Yeo didn’t rule out Scandella or Brodin from playing Sunday. That would seem like a longshot, but we shall see.
That’s it for me. I’ll be going to the game to tweet and maybe blog, but Rachel Blount is covering the game itself. Check out Sunday’s paper. Lots of stuff in there, from the gamer and notebook to my Sunday package on NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly talking candidly about the cap recapture punishment the Wild faces if Parise and/or Suter retire prior to 2025. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a read. He also talks to me about the Olympics, etc.