Tyson Strachan had just finished his dinner on the Wild’s charter back from Saskatoon on Saturday night when Mike Yeo tiptoed to the back of the dark plane and suddenly appeared in the seat next to him.
“Caught me by surprise,” the journeyman defenseman said, laughing.
With his sixth NHL franchise, Strachan has been cut every way possible. But this conversation with the Wild coach was, as Strachan put it, “nice.”
Yeo told Strachan how impressive he had been during training camp, how he would survive the big roster cutdown Sunday, and to come to the arena with bags packed because he would accompany the team to Duluth for a team-building trip this week.
“The one thing he said was he knew I was a professional, so he left me alone throughout camp so he could see my game and what I brought to the table,” said Strachan, a 2003 Carolina Hurricanes draft pick who played four years at Ohio State. “But he said it was important to break that barrier and have a conversation, and I really appreciated it.”
Strachan, 30, has played 184 NHL games for St. Louis, Florida, Washington and Buffalo, spending all of last season with the Sabres. He has played 276 American Hockey League games with five teams.
Barring an injury, Strachan is still likely to start the season in Iowa. But 12 days into training camp, the hard-nosed, 6-3, 205-pounder has earned Yeo’s respect with the way he plays the game, stands up for teammates and exhibits leadership with the Wild’s Iowa-bound players.
“Any time you’re not getting cut, it’s a good thing in my perspective,” Strachan said of his extended stay with the Wild. “You can look at depth charts all day long, but at the end of the day, all you can do is come to work and do your job and hope people like what you do.
“I’ve done it eight or nine years, and I’m going to keep doing that until they tell me to go elsewhere.”
Strachan brings, as Yeo said, something different. The Wild’s blue line isn’t the most rugged bunch, but Strachan is a physical presence who has shown this preseason that he moves well and can play a smart, poised game.
But if you mess with a teammate, like Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault did last week to Ryan Carter, Strachan will quickly intervene. He has also dropped the gloves 17 times in the NHL and 24 in the AHL over a nine-year span.
“As a physical guy, a depth guy, I need to bring that every night,” Strachan said. “It’s no surprise what I bring. I’m a guy who stands up for teammates, and that’s part of the reason the Wild came calling come free agency.”
Friend of strays
Besides hockey, Strachan has another passion. He loves dogs.
When he played with the Blues, Strachan and his fiancée, Kate Ankoviak, became friends with former Spring Lake Park High and Minnesota State Mankato standout David Backes and his wife, Kelly. They are big animal advocates and lovers, and have started Athletes for Animals (athletesforanimals.org), whose mission is rescuing and protecting the welfare of homeless pets.
Strachan and Ankoviak met in college, have been together nine years and are getting married next summer. They began volunteering at shelters, and the more cities they moved to as Strachan bounced around hockey, the more they witnessed a problem with stray animals.
They took to Twitter, found some stray dogs and worked to get them adopted. They have since started Strachan’s Strays. The organization works with non-kill shelters to promote adoption and support the rescuing of animals.
“Fans have embraced it everywhere we’ve gone,” Strachan said. “That’s the great thing about this game and fans and the positive side of social media. Everywhere we go, we just partner up with different shelters in the area and try to raise awareness and money and reach out to fans and get them involved and try to make an impact in that local area.”
Making a difference
Their website is strachanstrays.com and their Twitter account is @StrachanStrays. Last season with the Sabres, Strachan organized a photo shoot for which teammates brought in their dogs and dogs were also brought in from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
They made calendars, sold them throughout the year and donated the money to the ASPCA and Western New York Heroes, which pairs veterans with rescue dogs.
Strachan and Ankoviak have two rescue dogs, mixed breeds named Raja and Soder. They have also provided foster care for stray dogs.
“It’s an easy thing to turn a blind eye to, but every city we’ve ever been in, whether people believe it or not, there’s a stray animal problem,” Strachan said. “There are dogs and cats everywhere on the streets and there’s bad things happening to them. At worse they’re going hungry and sitting out in the cold.”
Strachan hopes to bring awareness to the Twin Cities, too … or Des Moines.
“That’s the hard part about never knowing where you’re going to be coming into the season,” Strachan said. “We have a hard time setting things up. We do different things during the year once we’re settled in.”