Mike Yeo stepped to the podium Monday morning with a piece of paper in hand. He couldn’t resist a chance to engage in some self- deprecating humor.
“I pulled that trick out once,” he said with a wry smile.
That joke was in reference to Yeo’s mini-rant late in the season when, in an attempt to calm growing anxiety as his team scuffled along, the Wild coach scribbled down some favorable statistics on a piece of paper and relayed them during a tense postgame news conference.
That Yeo was able to appear so relaxed hours before the most important game in his Wild tenure reflected his temperament throughout an emotional and combative playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.
The guy has been a cool customer at every twist and turn, unburdened by his looming contract expiration or the pressure of a playoff series. The present, he said, is all that matters, and right now that singular focus rests with a Game 7 after the Wild extended this series to a decisive game with a 5-2 victory Monday night.
“When you’re under the gun, you want your group to look at you and say, ‘OK, he’s calm, then we’re calm,’ ” Yeo said. “That calmness should come from confidence. That’s what’s allowed me to not panic.”
Yeo’s contract expires at season’s end, and there have been no hints or indications from Wild owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher as to their thinking.
One working theory is that the Wild needed to win a playoff series for Yeo to feel completely safe. But given the way Yeo has managed his team in this series, it’s hard to imagine that his status should rest on the outcome of Game 7.
Yeo has been a picture of calm all series and seems more comfortable in his role as a leader, as the person who sets the agenda, regardless of circumstance.
The organization’s brain trust should take note of the maturity that Yeo has displayed in this series, in terms of his strategy and ability to make adjustments, but more important, in his confident tone in response to difficult situations.
Yeo has revealed a deft touch in the face of adversity and refused to allow his players to wallow in self-pity, particularly after an excruciating loss in Game 5.
Yeo could’ve stormed into his news conference with steam rising off his bald head. He could have melted down on the officiating errors that undermined his team at the worst possible time.
Instead, Yeo lowered the temperature and continued to push that narrative leading into Game 6. He refused to shift responsibility or blame elsewhere. He pointed the finger at his team and noted that the Wild didn’t play well enough to win. His players, in turn, echoed that same sentiment.
Whether Yeo stewed privately didn’t matter. He made his point. Why obsess about something that is done and out of his control?
A coach’s job requires so much more than his ability to formulate a winning game plan. The good ones manage their message, muffle outside noise and keep the focus squarely on what’s important.
Yeo demonstrated some real savvy in that area after Game 5, and I’m not sure he would have reacted in the same manner last season, or the year prior. Or even early in this season. He just seems more in control of his emotions and the message he wants conveyed.
Almost every playoff series produces ebbs and flows, but this one has witnessed some sharp swings of momentum and emotion. Yeo has not looked overwhelmed at any step.
He pulled the right strings after his team choked away Game 1 and returned home with a 0-2 deficit. He switched goaltenders, benched veteran Kyle Brodziak and made a few critical tweaks to his lineup and defensive game plan after Colorado’s rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon skated laps around the Wild the first two games.
In Game 6, he shuffled lines freely in search of the right combination to spark his team after a shorthanded goal staggered his players.
Yeo deserves his share of credit for this series reaching a Game 7. He has handled himself and his team admirably in the face of some tough situations. He looks like he’s matured as a coach. He looks comfortable on this stage.
Why mess with that?