John Torchetti doesn’t know yet where he will be living in the Twin Cities. He has yet to talk to General Manager Chuck Fletcher about an amended contract to coach the Wild for the final 27 games of the season.
In a whirlwind, the coach of the AHL’s Iowa Wild who was “still a little ticked we lost [Saturday’s] game with three minutes left,” hustled to his Des Moines apartment, packed everything he thought he would need these final few months and got about 45 minutes of sleep before taking an early-morning flight to Minnesota.
Torchetti arrived at Braemar Arena in Edina close to 10 a.m. Sunday. He addressed the team, let fired coach Mike Yeo’s assistants run practice, met with the media, conducted some 1-on-1 meetings and then motored back to the airport for the team’s charter flight to Vancouver to begin his Wild coaching career Monday.
“I’m not here to take away your ice time,” Torchetti said. “I’m here to give you more ice time because you’re working for the logo.”
Torchetti is known as a hard-nosed, passionate coach and tactician. He can be brutally honest with players if they are not living — and competing — up to his standards.
“He’s going to hold everybody accountable,” said defenseman Matt Dumba, one of 12 Wild players whom Torchetti has coached at one time or another between the Wild’s minor league affiliates in Houston and Des Moines.
This is one reason why Fletcher said he didn’t go to the outside and maybe hire someone such as Randy Carlyle, Adam Oates or Guy Boucher. Fletcher said he believed Torchetti was the only “fresh set of eyes” who also knew the Wild’s personnel due to either coaching them, attending training camps or watching games from afar.
“It’s difficult to bring somebody in from the outside with 27 games to go and expect them to get to know the players, implement systems and make a dramatic change,” Fletcher said. “It’s a new voice, a demanding guy, emotional guy and a great communicator.”
Torchetti told players they have a “clean slate,” but he wants to instantly see work ethic and battle in Vancouver. He planned to talk to each player individually before Monday’s game about expectations and role and said everybody, including the leadership group — would be treated the same.
“I’m going to hold them accountable, meaning I’m going to push them,” he said. “I’m going to push them hard to be leaders. To get better, you have to have your leaders echo your words in the room when you leave the locker room. That’s what we need to make sure we’re all on the same page looking forward.”
In Houston and Iowa, Torchetti coached Yeo’s system, so there might not be dramatic changes.
“I’m going to be able to look at it a little more in depth over the next three games,” Torchetti said, referring to the upcoming road trip. “I do know it, and it’s worked well. We’ve definitely got to attack the net and we’ve got to make sure special teams is a privilege and we want to make sure we have our net-front presence and a shooting mentality starting with our power play.
“We’ve got to build confidence through the whole system and make sure everyone is held accountable for playing hard every night.”
Iowa is the second-worst team in the AHL, although it is 10-7-1 since late December. Fletcher said Iowa’s situation is not on Torchetti: “He walked into a terrible mess in Iowa and he’s cleaned it up.”
Torchetti said he’s not thinking about this opportunity as an audition beyond this season, but Fletcher said he “absolutely” could be the next permanent coach of the Wild depending on what happens.
“We’ll address it at the end of the year,” Fletcher said.
Assistants will stay
Assistant coaches Rick Wilson, Darryl Sydor, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette and goalie coach Bob Mason all were retained and ran Sunday’s practice.
It was an optional. All players partook except Thomas Vanek.
“Optional, they’ll learn as they go along they can take them,” Torchetti said. “They don’t have to go out there. It’s not mandatory. I’m not going to be taking any marks if they don’t take it. I want energy. We want energy every night. We want energy on the bench. We want everybody excited, everybody pushing for each other, and that’s what the game is all about.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who has missed the past three games because of an injury, practiced. Torchetti didn’t know his status for Monday.
A surprised coach
Torchetti said Fletcher and Wild owner Craig Leipold did not talk to him about potentially taking over as coach during a Friday visit to Des Moines.
“Mr. Leipold came in, and he wanted one of my bobbleheads, so that was pretty cool,” Torchetti said, laughing. “He came in and just said, ‘Keep up the good work,’ but never discussed anything like this. I was in complete shock [Saturday], that’s for sure. It’s an honor. I’m looking forward to the task at hand.”