Kurtis Gabriel was just called up from Iowa full of nerves and was hours from skating in his first NHL playoff game when he walked into John Torchetti’s office only to be told to leave.
“He goes, ‘Gabes, get out of here. You know what I want. Go talk to the assistant coaches,’ ” Gabriel said Tuesday. “Classic Torch.”
Gabriel later would play 14 shifts in Monday’s Game 3 victory over the Dallas Stars. He was robbed of a goal in the third period, one that almost made many of his Iowa teammates sitting in the press box fall out of their chairs.
“It’s nice to have them in my corner. It’s the highlight of my life so far,” Gabriel said of his debut. “The atmosphere, everybody finishing checks, everybody up on the bench, the energy was just unbelievable. It was tough to sleep after that.”
Gabriel, who turns 23 next Wednesday, doesn’t know if one of his birthday gifts will include a second consecutive game. He’s not taking anything for granted but knows he feels comfortable that Torchetti, his old Iowa coach, is at the helm during this most recent call up.
“With Torch here, having the same morning skates as Iowa, the same feel, the same video sessions, the same terminology, it makes this time up so much better,” Gabriel said. “It feels like I’m playing in a bigger Iowa.”
Gabriel is a huge fan of Torchetti. He will never forget when the Iowa coach walked into the locker room after a Feb. 13 loss and told the team he was “getting called up.”
“He came in and was pretty emotional, and he’s a super passionate guy and a lot of guys were tearing up,” Gabriel said. “We started poorly, but he built us up down there. We were losing our leader, but we couldn’t be any happier for the guy. It was super emotional. He came around and hugged everyone.
“He’s the ultimate player’s coach, in my opinion. He’s the ultimate modern day coach. He’s been as hard as any coach has been on me, but at the same time, if you’re in the lineup, it’s for a reason. You want to play for him because he just oozes passion and it just filters down to the team.”
Torchetti admits that if he didn’t have that trust in Gabriel, there’s no way he would have thrown the rookie into an NHL playoff game.
“Trust in a player and a coach is everything,” Torchetti said. “Once a player feels the coach trusts him, even when he makes a mistake, he knows he’s going back out there. … Once a player and a coach trust each other, good things happen.”
You can tell Torchetti is at ease now. He said it’s not only because his 80-year-old mom, one of his sisters and a couple nephews are in town. It’s because some Iowa players and especially his old staff — equipment and medical trainers and PR guy — that he has been with since Houston are up.
“It just feels calmer,” he said.
Torchetti said he didn’t get to bed until 3:30 in the morning Tuesday because he was so wired from Monday’s win and because he was hanging with his family.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Having your family around just makes things that much easier. You can go horse around at dinner, talk, we’re not talking hockey, just talking about family, just doing funny things. Just feel comfortable when you’re around family.”
Thomas Vanek took part in Tuesday’s optional Wild practice. Out because of an upper-body injury, Vanek is still a ways away from playing.
“Well, we’ll see how he feels,” Torchetti said. “He’d need a couple [practices]. He’s got to get bumped.”
Injured Zach Parise also skated on his own as part of his rehab. Torchetti said he’d provide a better update Wednesday, but Torchetti doesn’t expect Parise’s status to change. He’s out indefinitely because of a herniated disc.
Stars captain Jamie Benn, who took a number of checks Monday, was given Tuesday’s practice off.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said.
• The Wild granted permission to the Ottawa Senators to talk with former coach Mike Yeo about their vacant coaching position. That initial interview took place this past weekend. Yeo has one year left on his contract with Minnesota.