The John Torchetti era officially began today if you consider taking the ice for the first time during a morning skate as officially beginning.
Torchetti is fired up for tonight’s debut against Vancouver – his first as a NHL head coach since April 17, 2006, with the Kings. The Wild will be looking for its first win since Jan. 21 to snap an eight-game losing streak.
“Actually can’t wait,” Torchetti said. “It’s a little bit easier I think the transition because I know the guys and I know the staff. Get my matchups down will probably take me a little bit because I don’t know the opponent like I usually do, but that’s what Bruno’s there for, Willie and the rest of the guys. But pretty fired up. This is the best league in the world. You’ve got to respect this league.”
I’ve known Torchetti for years and covered him as the Panthers’ coach and obviously parts of four seasons in the Wild organization. He’s a passionate, energetic guy who has the ability to challenge players usually in a positive way.
I accidently left my laptop in the press conference room yesterday at Braemar. I walked in to get it and interrupted a 1-on-1 with Erik Haula. If I’m Haula, who has been playing great lately, I know I’d be fired up if somebody was giving me a pep talk like I overheard.
Torchetti said his goal here is to “ignite” the players that need to be ignited. He used Jason Pominville, who has six goals as an example, saying if he can get a player like him going and scoring goals, that obviously makes the likelihood of the Wild getting back on track much more possible.
Basically, in my opinion, guys just need to stop cheating and start competing. You can see since the All-Star break everybody out of position, on the wrong side of the puck, doing reckless things on the ice and most of all either trying to other people’s jobs or passing the problem to somebody else.
That is why the Wild has given up 25 goals in the last six games and four goals or more in six consecutive games and seven of the last eight.
Before I get started, I chatted with Mike Yeo today. Tough day for him as he cleaned out his office. He’s going to get out of town for a little R&R. Out of respect for the organization, he’s not going to talk publicly until after the outdoor game and he certainly doesn’t want to overshadow Torchetti’s debut tonight.
As I’ve said on the radio, on Twitter and on my Wild Minute, whatever you think of Yeo, he always was a class act, especially with the writers. He always treated us with the utmost respect even when asked tough questions, stupid questions or whatever.
The guy has the best points percentage out of the three previous Wild coaches, made the playoffs three straight years, the second round the last two. He’ll land on his feet and be a head coach elsewhere at some point.
I believe he has one year left on his contract here, by the way, which I think I’ve forgotten to toss into any of my articles the past few days.
Torchetti, a longtime NHL assistant, has turned down many NHL assistant coaching jobs the past number of years because he wants to be an NHL head coach. His goal was for the Wild to win with “Yeozie” and he’d prove himself in the AHL until another team called on him to be a NHL coach. “I didn’t want it this way with a member of the family leaving.”
The lines Torchetti put together for today’s skate and probably tonight’s game were in consult with Yeo’s assistants.
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Thomas Vanek-Mikael Granlund-Jason Zucker
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter-Jarret Stoll-Justin Fontaine.
Chris Porter is scratched for the fourth time in five games.
The D pairs:
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon (returning from a strained oblique for the first time since two Saturdays ago in St. Louis)
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba
Mike Reilly-Christian Folin (more on this pair below)
No Nate Prosser
Devan Dubnyk (0-8-1 since Jan. 9) vs. Jacob Markstrom
“I think we’re all excited,” Torchetti said. “It’s a new beginning. Everyone’s got a clean slate. We’re going to push each other moving forward.”
In the last 24 hours, Torchetti said he spoke to every player individually at Braemar, on the long flight to Vancouver or this morning.
“I talked to everybody. It was great,” Torchetti said. “I was just thinking it puts everybody at ease and I went over what I expect them to do moving forward or what hasn’t been working for them before or if there’s something else we can fix for them. It’s all about making us better and making guys better. The quicker we get everybody’s games back on track, the quicker we become a winning team.”
He said the 12 players he has coached in Houston or Iowa (by the way Zach Parise went on and on that the players who played for him gave the vets great reports of what kind of coach Torchetti is and how much they enjoyed playing for him) understand what he’s expecting and knows how he’ll be “demanding of them to play at the level I left them at and I expect them to peak them even more. There’s got to be a better ceiling because we can’t stay on the same floor.”
On the lines, he said it’s day by day, but “You’ve got to earn your ice, you’ve got to earn your spots.”
He will switch the forwards. Rick Wilson will continue to switch the D. He said he’s going to see how it goes on the bench and in practice for a little bit before deciding if roles of assistant coaches will be altered.
He said system-wise, they play the same system in Iowa, so it’s an easy transition and he likes Yeo’s system. But he said as he goes along here, he may make some tweaks based on the fact he’s coaching new personnel than he had in Houston and Iowa when he coached Yeo’s system.
He said system-wise is the least of his worries right now. “It’s just about competing, wanting that puck and no more stick checks and makings sure we’re playing the right way.”
“No more stick checks” means Torchetti has watched a lot of Wild video lately.
Torchetti is going with a Reilly-Folin pair tonight. It’s a comfort level because they played together he said between five to eight games for him in Iowa.
Reilly felt they had good chemistry. Folin’s got to be better. He’s coming off some tough, tough games … or really shifts, actually. Every game I have felt he has played well until suddenly he has a couple nightmare shifts. He’s a minus-1 in his four games since being recalled.
“Fols, he’s got a great shot, too,” Torchetti said. “One thing that we found out down there is we put him on the power play because he’s got a heavy shot, but he’s got to be a stay-at-home guy, physical, boxing out, making a great first pass, getting back hard (Torch actually said, “hod”), being smart (Torch actyally said, “smot”) defensively. Just making sure he plays a solid two-way game.”
On the leadership, guys like Parise and Vanek said it has to be better and it’s now up to the players to remember they’re good players and dig themselves out of this.
Torchetti had a good quote today: “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. 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.”
I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show tonight and the first intermission.