VANCOUVER, British Columbia – If you think John Torchetti was overcome by nerves the night before coaching his first NHL game in nearly 10 years, well, he was not.
“I was out like a light by 9:30,” the “fired-up,” promoted Iowa Wild coach said before debuting behind Minnesota’s bench against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
On a day fired coach Mike Yeo cleared out his Xcel Energy Center office, Torchetti, 51, a longtime NHL assistant coach and minor league head coach, was 1,400 miles away coaching his first NHL game in the lead position since April 17, 2006, when he was an interim with the Los Angeles Kings.
Torchetti, promoted Saturday after Yeo’s firing, spent the previous 24 hours meeting with the Wild assistant coaches to determine lines for his debut. He met individually with every player either at the rink or on the Wild’s four-hour flight to British Columbia.
He wanted to put each player at ease, but he also wanted to go over each player’s role and “what I expect them to do moving forward. The quicker we get everybody’s games back on track, the quicker we become a winning team.”
Torchetti wants competing, battles and, “no more stick checks,” which shows he has seen clips of the Wild’s play of late.
But most of all, Torchetti made clear he wants more from the Wild’s “leadership group,” which always has been considered captain Mikko Koivu, assistant captains Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and usually veterans such as Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.
Torchetti said it’s also time for the Wild’s younger guys to not just take the next step with their play, but make their voice heard inside the locker room.
With so many veterans, there often does seem to be a divide between vets and youngsters, and it’s easy for the kids to get lost in the weeds and feel it’s not their place to pipe up.
“Moving forward, we all know that we have to get tighter in our structure of the leadership because if it was going the right way, we wouldn’t be here,” Torchetti said. “So we have to make sure moving forward that we do more team-building stuff and that structure-wise all 22 guys are part of it, and our younger guys have to start having a bigger voice in the locker room.
“It’s time for them. They’ve been here for three years. Some of those guys have to speak up, and they’ve got to identify that this is their team, too. We’re not going to settle to be average. We want to be better.”
Torchetti said part of his job is to “ignite” those who need to be ignited. He used Pominville, a longtime goal scorer who only has six this season, as an example.
“If we can get him scoring goals, naturally that will lead to more success,” Torchetti said.
So against the Canucks, Torchetti’s initial lines were Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle, Thomas Vanek-Mikael Granlund-Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Pominville and Ryan Carter-Jarret Stoll-Justin Fontaine.
Parise especially looked like a frustrated player during Yeo’s final weeks. He entered Monday’s game with one goal, four assists and a minus-14 in the previous 13 games. That quickly changed, as Parise scored at 9:31 of the first period to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.
“It hasn’t been fun for a little while now,” Parise admitted before the game. “And losing and … it’s been not fun practicing, the games have been hard. It’s just, we haven’t been getting any results and for us, as veteran players, as leaders of the team, now more than ever we have to play the right way.
“And we have to really take charge of getting our group out of this. Otherwise, if this drags on, it will be over before you know it. So there is responsibility with the veteran players, whether you wear a letter or not, to clean it up. To clean up our act, to make sure that we start playing hockey the right way, the way we’re capable of and the way we should be. Otherwise there’s going to be more changes. It’s inevitable.”