With many of the players’ dads in attendance, the Wild showed a little extra spring in its step during Tuesday’s practice at Tria Rink. The start of the team’s annual fathers’ trip, though, wasn’t the only reason behind the high-energy workout.
Interim head coach Dean Evason wants to see the Wild play at a quicker tempo. In the two practices he’s led since taking over for former head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was fired last Friday, Evason has conveyed that message by cranking up the speed. He’s hoping to see that pay immediate dividends Wednesday in Vancouver, when the Wild begins a two-game road trip accompanied by their dads and other mentors.
The team sits seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot with 24 games left, leaving Evason little time to figure out the right buttons to push. He ended Tuesday’s practice with a lively sprint, setting the tone he believes the Wild needs for a late-season climb.
“What we’re looking to do is play the game with a real high pace,’’ Evason said. “That’s what we’ve tried to instill the last couple of days in practice and reinforce through videos. We want to get out of our zone and get up the ice as quickly as we can and push the pace of the game.
“As the first drill went on [Tuesday], it got tighter and sharper. The energy was really good. Hopefully, that translates into games.’’
Things were moving quickly off the ice, too. Four days after Boudreau’s dismissal, the Wild continued to settle into life under a new leader.
Several players said the transition has been smoothed by Evason’s familiarity with the team. Though General Manager Bill Guerin said he made the coaching change because players “just needed a different voice right now,’’ hearing a voice they know has made things easier.
Hired in June 2018 by former GM Paul Fenton, Evason spent 10 seasons as an NHL assistant coach and six as head coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. He also played 11 seasons in the NHL, ending his career with Calgary in 1996. Wild forward Marcus Foligno said that experience allows Evason to understand how the coaching change affects players, a valuable perspective while guiding a team through an abrupt midseason switch.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment,” Foligno said. “But since Day One, Dean came in and addressed questions. He knows it’s always tough when you have to change leaders during the course of a season.
“It’s not a hang-your-head kind of feeling since Bruce [was fired]. Our goal is the same goal as before. We have to make the playoffs. Dean is well aware of the situation we’re in, and he’s been great.’’
Foligno called Evason a direct communicator who “doesn’t sugarcoat things,’’ though he added the coach’s personality is as upbeat as his practices. Tuesday, the Wild worked on a little bit of everything: special teams, five-on-five, and fundamentals such as faceoff and shooting drills.
The hourlong practice rarely slowed down, and it concluded with players skating the length of the ice four times.
“It’s just bang-bang,’’ defenseman Matt Dumba said. “[Evason] knows what he wants, and he wants to do it as efficiently and as quick as possible. I think you’ll see more of that from us. We’re already a well-conditioned team. That’s something that’s always been emphasized around here, and I think it will benefit us.’’
Dumba said he felt the switch was “a necessary change for us’’ and that Evason will hold every player accountable. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk added that the coach has done a good job of explaining his methods and expectations, and the team is enjoying the fast pace of practice.
Evason described his own adjustment as “like riding a bike.’’ Though he was a bit anxious before his first game as interim head coach — a 2-0 loss to San Jose last Saturday — he said he felt really good once play began. As he continues to put his own stamp on the Wild, Evason hopes his players are comfortable, too.
“I hope we can build on the positive things we did against San Jose,’’ he said. “We need everything to be sharp and tight, starting with puck drop [Wednesday].’’