Wild players buy what Yeo's selling

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2011 - 9:14 AM

Roles and expectations are clearer, and the team credits its coach with succinct communication.

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Wild players Pierre-Marc Bouchard (96), Matt Cullen (7), Cal Clutterbuck and Nate Prosser (39) celebrated Clutterbuck's goal against the Blue Jackets on Nov. 15.

Photo: Paul Vernon, Associated Press - Ap

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"We're trying to create a new culture; we're trying to bring in a new system. ... [Pittsburgh Penguins coach] Dan Bylsma told me ... 'Just so you know, it's probably going to take you 30 games.' I hope it doesn't take that long." -- Wild coach Mike Yeo after a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Oct. 27.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. - It hasn't.

From the moment Mike Yeo uttered that quote, the Wild began reeling off victory after victory -- 13 of the next 17 -- and opens a five-game road trip Sunday night against those same Ducks on the tippy-top of the Western Conference.

It's a hockey cliché, but the Wild has bought in to what Yeo and his coaching staff is selling.

"It's about getting the message out there and creating the belief that if we play a certain way, we can win," General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "But then it's up to the players to accept that and buy in to that.

"Right from Day 1, we saw it with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley and Nick Schultz and Matt Cullen and Nik Backstrom. There was a sense from the veteran players that they were sold, and when they're sold, the whole team is sold."

But Fletcher also credits an evolution.

"For the first time since I've been here, we have a real secondary group of leaders developing, and Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck in particular," Fletcher said. "Not only have they played well; they have accepted the reality that they're no longer young players. They carry a lot of weight like the veterans, and that's caused the youngsters to follow suit."

There seems to be a belief inside the Wild room that it can win any game. The team has an NHL-high 10 victories when giving up the first goal because it doesn't seem to sway from Yeo's system.

The Wild keeps "sticking to it, sticking to it until we finally pounce," Brodziak said. "It shows you're unflappable. No matter what [the opponent] brings, it's not going to change how we play. Over a 60-minute game, that wears on teams."

Clutterbuck gives Yeo credit for his clear, succinct communication skills.

"When everybody's on the same page, the game's a lot less tiring, you spend a lot less time chasing the puck and you've got a lot more energy to do more productive things," he said. "Guys know their jobs, and this year, we're one step ahead of the play rather than one step behind."

Was it not as clear the past two years under Todd Richards?

"It's just more black and white now," Clutterbuck said. "It's a little more detailed, there's a little bit further understanding of what our jobs actually are."

Yeo's communication began within hours of landing the job in June. He called every player for long chats where he laid out his system, his goals and what was expected of each player.

That continued later in the summer when Yeo flew to Finland with Fletcher to meet face-to-face with two of his most important players, Koivu and Backstrom.

"I definitely did try to sell our game and the way that we have to play, but without the players and their absolute commitment to playing that way and building that identity, it's all fruitless," Yeo said.

And for the first time in a long time, the Wild identity is crystal clear:

"We find ways to win, we don't make excuses and we just work -- work for each other," Fletcher said.

Fletcher is not blind to the fact there are parts of the Wild's game that need improvement, particularly its transition and offensive game.

"But the buy-in has been remarkably quick, and the attitude and effort have been outstanding," Fletcher said. "We've found a way to become a pretty good team."

Now the Wild begins a stretch where 19 of the next 27 are on the road.

"This is going to test us," Fletcher said.

"It's perhaps the most difficult part of our schedule, so there are going be a lot of challenges for this group to see if they can sustain it.

''I'm sure there are still a lot of naysayers out there, and this group is relishing it."

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