Mike Yeo walked out of the visitors locker room after Wednesday’s practice at Jobing.com Arena and ran right into one of his mentors, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett.
The Wild coach not only played years for Tippett in the 1990s with the Houston Aeros, Yeo was Tippett’s captain.
Tippett said to Yeo, “Nice win yesterday,” referring to Minnesota’s 2-1 shootout victory in Los Angeles.
Yeo rolled his eyes and said, “Not as good as yours,” referring to Phoenix’s 6-0 win over Calgary.
“Wasn’t as good as it looked,” responded Tippett, before the veteran coach added, “You’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never as good as you think you are.”
It was a good reminder about how essential it is to stay even-keeled during the ups and downs of an 82-game season.
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
A week earlier, Yeo was very likely a whisker from being fired. The Wild had lost six in a row, including blowing a three-goal lead at home to the Islanders. After that sixth loss to St. Louis, defenseman Ryan Suter said, “We’re as close to bottom as you can get.”
A loss to Buffalo on Jan. 2 almost certainly would have resulted in Yeo’s pink slip. A loss to Washington last Saturday — a game in which the Wild rallied from a 2-0 deficit thanks to Suter’s hat trick — might have had the same outcome.
Yeo knew it. He even met with his players before the Wild’s New Year’s Day practice and told them he wouldn’t coach to “save my job” and reassured them how much he still believed in them.
Since that talk, the Wild has won four in a row, including consecutive road victories against the Kings and Coyotes without captain Mikko Koivu, go-to forward Zach Parise, top-four defenseman Jared Spurgeon and the first-half MVP, goalie Josh Harding.
A week ago, the strain inside the locker room was profound. You could sense it at every moment. Many folks, such as General Manager Chuck Fletcher, wore the anxiety on their faces.
But the tension that engulfed the franchise then feels like a century ago.
Different hero each night
“It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun,” Yeo said of the stress he was particularly under. “But honestly, you tell me, I think I handled it well. I just focused on the next day. I had total confidence in our guys. I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt that our guys were going to go out and compete hard. That’s all you can do is focus on what you can control.
“You know what you know, and I know our guys. I can’t control the other stuff.”
Ten days ago, Yeo was all but begging his players to “step up.”