Whether Mike Yeo’s message had become stale or his relationship with players spoiled was something nobody on the Wild roster really wanted to talk about Sunday.
The day after Yeo was fired as Wild coach, after an up-tempo practice at Braemar Arena in Edina that featured more than a few smiles from the players, nobody really wanted to dig too deeply on why Yeo was gone or what had happened to put the team in its situation.
Most players talked about their respect for Yeo, verbally shrugged their shoulders when asked what went wrong and accepted blame for the fact that the coach had paid the price for a weeks-long slump.
“It usually goes on the coach,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “But we’re all responsible for this. Every one in the room.”
But Yeo is gone, interim coach John Torchetti is in, and Wild players were much more interested in looking ahead rather than dissecting the recent past.
“What happens in there, that’s between us,” said alternate captain Zach Parise, nodding toward the dressing room. “I’m not going to sit here and say people stopped listening to Mike or anything. For whatever reason it just … you can’t sit here and say it was working, because I feel we haven’t won a game in two months. We weren’t playing well, and that was it.”
That’s about as close as it comes to an admission that the Wild, under Yeo, was broken.
The question now, of course, is whether a change in coaches — a new voice — will produce anything different.
“I think it can definitely help,” Thomas Vanek said. “Sometimes a new voice is a new beginning.”
So it began Sunday during a practice Torchetti was there for, but not on the ice. He has coached 12 players on the Wild roster in the AHL. And they agreed with Torchetti’s description of himself. He will be a coach who demands effort, is blunt in his assessment and makes players earn rewards such as a place on the power play.
“He’s a guy who knows what he wants,” Matt Dumba said. “He’s a firm believer in working hard and just working for your opportunities. Holding everyone accountable. That’s what I saw when he was my coach.”
Said Charlie Coyle: “He’s hard-nosed. He says it how it is. … I loved playing for him.”
And now that’s exactly what they have to do — play for him. Yeo is gone, but the same players remain.
“I would expect us to have a lot of energy in the next game,” Parise said. “Play a lot harder, compete hard. At the same time, I think we all have to understand we’re not going to go out and start playing like the 1972 Soviet Union [team]; drop passes everywhere, tic-tac-toe plays. We have a lot of work to do to regain some confidence offensively. And it’s not just going to flip a switch and be there. We have to work.”
Will work be enough? Veteran Ryan Suter recently described the team as fragile. Almost everyone agrees that the team’s confidence needs a boost. It will be up to the veterans on the team to help change that.
“At the end of the day, you have to be good yourself so other players follow you,” Suter said.
The process starts Monday night in Vancouver, the first of three consecutive games in western Canada before the team returns to play its outdoor game with Chicago on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Perhaps a little road trip is the best place to inaugurate a new era?
“We have to clear our heads,” Parise said. “It’s been tough. It hasn’t been fun for a little while now. It hasn’t been fun practicing; the games have been hard. For us, as veteran players, as leaders of the team, now more than ever, we have to play the right way. And we really have to take charge of getting our group out of this. Otherwise, if this drags on, it will be over before you know it.”