Before the pain of the present had subsided, John Torchetti already was thinking about the future. The Wild’s interim coach spoke enthusiastically after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Dallas, outlining the work he wants to continue next season with the players he has overseen for the past 10 weeks.
The Game 6 defeat at Xcel Energy Center ended the Wild’s playoff run in the first round. Torchetti is hoping it didn’t end an NHL tenure that began Feb. 13, when he was called up from his head coaching job with the Iowa Wild to finish the season behind the bench after Mike Yeo was fired. He stabilized a team that was plummeting out of the playoff race, guiding the Wild to a 15-11-1 record to end the regular season and a 2-4 mark in the playoffs.
Several players lauded Torchetti on Sunday for the enthusiasm and direction he brought during a late-season revival that lifted the Wild into the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. Like so many of the young players he has coached, the Boston native hopes his audition was impressive enough to keep him in the NHL.
“That’s up to [management and ownership] to decide,’’ said Torchetti, whose NHL résumé includes five stints as an assistant coach and three as an interim head coach. “I just know that coming into this building, it’s a lot of fun working here. And there are some good players here, some good young players who are going to be great players as we move along.’’
Torchetti inherited a team that had lost 13 of its previous 14 games when he took over. His 10 weeks with the Wild were characterized by uneven results, with a pair of four-game win streaks, a season-high run of six victories in a row and five consecutive losses to end the regular season.
In addition to showing a fiery personality behind the bench, Torchetti was straightforward and candid with players, and he demanded tireless effort and unflagging attention to detail. Saying he “coaches for the logo,’’ he didn’t hesitate to bench Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek when he was displeased with their two-way play. Other players, including Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, flourished under his guidance.
Center Charlie Coyle said Torchetti did a “great job’’ under difficult circumstances and credited him with helping the Wild change its fortunes. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk said the coach “brought a lot of energy’’ to a team that responded well to his style.
Niederreiter, who scored 11 of his 20 goals in the 27 games under Torchetti, didn’t know what to expect but was pleased with the results. “I feel like he kept us going and kept us alive and believed in us,’’ he said.
In a postgame news conference, Torchetti said the Wild made strides toward greater mental fortitude and consistency and the players demonstrated better accountability and dedication to one another. He was pleased that “we got some players back playing’’ and praised leaders such as captain Mikko Koivu for setting the proper tone.
Torchetti didn’t let himself off the hook for the quick playoff exit. He said everyone, including the coaches, could have done more.
His hope now is that he will have a chance to take the Wild further next season. “They’re a good group,’’ he said. “They worked hard. I told them the coaching staff was proud of them.
“It was fun. It was a blast. But we didn’t get the job done.’’