After Monday’s practice, St. Louis coach Mike Yeo was happy to talk about this week’s big game at Xcel Energy Center. Or, as it turns out, two big games.
The former Wild coach will be behind the visitors’ bench Tuesday, facing his old team for the first time since he became the Blues’ head coach Feb. 1. Thursday, his son Kyler, a forward for Hill-Murray, will play in a Class 2A hockey quarterfinal against Moorhead at Xcel. That’s a lot of emotion to pack into a single week at Yeo’s previous place of employment, where he spent nearly five seasons as the Wild’s head coach before being fired 13 months ago.
While Thursday’s game is about sentiment, Tuesday’s is strictly business. The Blues, who stopped a five-game losing streak Sunday, are scrambling to snare a playoff berth — a scenario Yeo routinely endured while coaching the Wild. Before his son chases a title at Xcel, Yeo wants to see the Blues get their own postseason hopes back on track.
“I think we’re past that now,’’ Yeo said, when asked if there was any extra significance to playing the Wild. “I want to win the game for a number of reasons. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a personal part of it, but I’d like this one for our team.
“Points are important to us. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to beat a really good team and to grow our game against a quality opponent.’’
In both 2014 and 2015, the Wild pulled out of midseason slumps and made late surges to slip into the playoffs. The same pattern last year led to Yeo’s dismissal Feb. 13, before the team could again climb back. Yeo was hired by the Blues last summer as associate coach to Ken Hitchcock, and the plan for him to succeed Hitchcock next season was accelerated when Hitchcock was fired after the Blues staggered through January.
It’s been a wild ride at the helm. St. Louis went 7-1 in its first two weeks under Yeo, then lost its next five. Sunday’s 3-0 victory at Colorado gave the Blues a one-point edge over Los Angeles for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Yeo has managed those challenges with his family still in Minnesota. For the first time in his career, his wife, Tanya, and his two children did not move with him when he changed jobs. Kyler wanted to finish high school at Hill-Murray, and this season, the senior co-captain’s 15 goals and 21 assists have helped the Pioneers to an 18-5-4 record.
They upset Stillwater 6-3 on Friday to advance to the state tournament. Mike Yeo was coaching the Blues to a 3-0 loss at Winnipeg that night and got word of Hill-Murray’s victory afterward.
“I wanted to be in a better mood than I was,’’ Yeo said, laughing. “I’m extremely excited for him. It has been a challenge this year, and it will continue to be a challenge to be away from my family, but I think this sort of justifies the decision.
“My family has sacrificed a lot all these years. This was an easy decision for us to allow him to finish out [high school at Hill-Murray], and a big part of that was just how proud he is to play for that team. And now to see them go to state, I’m very proud.’’
The current road trip has allowed Yeo some precious family time. Monday night, he planned to have dinner with Tanya and Kyler. When the team was in Colorado, he saw his daughter, Braeden, who is attending college there.
Tuesday, he will concentrate on moving the Blues forward. The team has seen major shifts in its roster, with David Backes, Brian Elliott and Troy Brouwer moving on last summer and Kevin Shattenkirk traded to Washington last week.
“What the Blues have done in the past is great,’’ Yeo said. “But we’re all part of something very new here. It’s up to us to carve out our own identity and our own culture, and that’s what’s exciting to me.
“I thought the last game was a step. We’ll be tested even more (by the Wild), but it’s also an opportunity for us. You come in here, you beat a really good team, that’s a bit of a statement. And that’s what we should be looking to make happen.’’
• Defenseman Christian Folin, who injured his right arm midway through the first period of Sunday’s victory over San Jose, will miss at least three weeks. Wild officials did not specify the nature of the injury.
• Forward Tyler Graovac was reassigned to Iowa of the AHL.