Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild coach Mike Yeo: "We need to be gamers right now"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: February 10, 2012 - 3:42 PM

Mike Yeo scrapped practice today, instead opting for another air-it-out meeting and off-ice workout. The plan probably would have been different had there not been a lacrosse mat on the ice surface at the X.

Afternoon. I’ll be on KFAN around 5:20 p.m. CT, so be there or be square.

Today was initially intended to be a dress and drive to Mendota Heights. Woulda made for a fairly disgusting ride back to the X if Yeo put the team through "Herbies" like many Wild fans suggested to me.

But as Yeo said last night, he doesn’t feel this is about x’s and o’s anymore. This is about a mentality, not being afraid to lose and afraid to fail and to get in the ring and fight.

Yeah, the clichés and analogies were plentiful this morning.

The message wasn’t a heckuva lot different than you’ve heard before, but this is where the Wild’s at.

It’s minus Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Even when it was winning games earlier in the year, the Wild wasn’t outskilling teams to victory. It was outworking them, outlasting them, outdefending them, outbattling them, outgoaltending them, out…

You get the picture. And it’s doing it on a consistent basis. The Wild seemed to get that back during a 3-1-1 stretch up until Tuesday’s game in Columbus. Frankly, I thought the Wild’s game in Dallas was one of the best all-around efforts of the season, and it still lost in a shootout.

Yeo said last night that the Wild “flat-out stink” the past two months.

He didn’t back off from his honest words last night.

“I obviously said some things last night, and they’re all true. The thing I want to make clear is that I don’t want it to come across that this group doesn’t care. That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Yeo said. “I know that this is a group that cares very much. The start of the year we talked about how we have to change the culture here and how we have to become winners, and I know that we’ve made some positive steps. We’re at the point where we have to take the last step as far as I’m concerned.”

Yeo used the word, “care,” seven or eight times. I don’t know. I’m not sure caring is something to boast about. These guys are professional athletes. They get paid good money to play a sport and to succeed in that sport. If they don’t care, that’s a major, major problem.

But what Yeo’s saying is that these guys care so much about succeeding that they’ve become afraid of losing.
If you hear me on the radio, you know how often I talk about how you can learn to win and that’s what happened to the Wild earlier in the year. They learned the process needed for this team to be victorious. Well, now losing’s become habit and it’s hard to shake.

“We have to quit being afraid to lose. We have to quit being afraid to fail, to lay it all out there and then at the end of the year we don’t make the playoffs, we have to quit being afraid of that because it’s preventing us from putting our best fight,” Yeo said. “The next step for us is to have enough confidence in ourselves, in the group that we have, in our game that we play, that we’re willing to fight every game.“Sometimes when you’re afraid to lose a fight, maybe you don’t get in the ring.”

“Losing can contribute to that, and we’ve lost a lot lately. As an organization we’ve come up short the last few years, so there’s some feelings there that we have to fight through. But I know that they care. I do. I know it. It’s just we have to find our way right now.”

As I mentioned, the Wild had another meeting today where guys got feelings out. They did that in Banff last month. Didn’t affect the on-ice success one iota, so we’ll see if this does.

On not practicing, Yeo said, “We’ve been the best practice team in the league for two months. We’ve been unbelievable in practice. We need to be gamers right now.”

Yeo sounded like a shrink at times, saying, “We deserve to win. We deserve to be winners here. So let’s recognize that, let’s go into games and play to win because that’s what we deserve.

“I think we’re good enough. Let’s get in the ring. You might not accomplish what you want to accomplish, but we’re going to go down swinging. And I believe that this group, if we’re willing to step in the ring, and we’re willing to have that fight, then we’ll win.”

Just dawned on me: Yeo sounded today like Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s old Saturday Night Live character: “You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You.”


Onward. Yeo obviously expects a motivated gang tomorrow night against the Blue Jackets. Wouldn’t guarantee victory, but “I’m expecting us as a group to go and put up a fight, that’s for sure.”

As for Brad Staubitz, and his being put on waivers, Yeo said, “He’s not going to be in the lineup tomorrow and [Matt Kassian] has been doing a good job sort of in that role, so it’s tough for him to get into the lineup and we’re happy with the job that Kass is doing. It’s a really tough decision because he’s a good teammate, he’s a good person and you never feel good about doing something like that. Tough times, you end up making tough decisions.”

Chuck Fletcher will address the situation after 11 a.m., when he’ll either clear waivers or be claimed, but Yeo wouldn’t get into whether there was a reason for the timing or if something happened in the game last night. After all, it was Cal Clutterbuck who had to fight Max Lapierre, not Staubitz, and down 5-2 late, there’s a scrum by the bench and Staubitz just skated to the Wild bench. Who knows? I am surprised this didn’t happened a lot sooner.

I believe Fletcher is working with Staubitz’s agent to try to find him another NHL home.

By the way, Lapierre wasn’t disciplined for his spear on Staubitz, but if he does it again in the next 41 games, he’ll face an automatic suspension because the game misconduct is on his record.

The players the media talked to had no problem with the comments Yeo made last night. I’ve gotten that question from a lot of readers. They all said Yeo’s comments were fair. And frankly, the Wild’s won five times in two months. What are they going to give up on the coach and suddenly start losing? Now was the time to hit them where it hurts -- the pride. As Nick Schultz said, all coaches have exhausted everything in their bag of tricks at this point. As Matt Cullen said, the spark now much come from inside the room.

We’ll see if it happens. Talk to you Saturday.

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