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Yeo 'wasn't surprised' by Wild dismissal

Former coach 'had a feeling' losing streak could cost him his job

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

WOODBURY, Minn. -- Former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo said his farewell to the State of Hockey on Wednesday at a media gathering about 15 minutes from Xcel Energy Center. 

"I don't think I've ever been this nervous for an interview," Yeo said. "Maybe because there is so much emotion. I want to say thanks to the people of Minnesota. The last five years, they've taken myself and my family in. I loved every day that I got to be coach of the Minnesota Wild." 

Yeo was fired as coach of the Wild on Feb. 13 following a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. At the time, the defeat ran Minnesota's losing streak to eight games and was its 13th in 14 games. 

Yeo was replaced by John Torchetti, under whom the Wild are 4-1-0. 

As the losing streak grew longer, Yeo said he could sense something was going to happen. 

"I had a feeling that we were almost waiting for a change," Yeo said. "It was tough to get a spark. That change can come in two ways, it can come with a trade or you can fire the coach. My sense, and I could be wrong, but that was my feeling." 

When the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching landmark 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012, one of their main selling points was a farm system stocked with prospects thought of as perhaps the best in the NHL. 

Somewhere along the way, something may have changed. 

"Winning brings a team together and losing can tear it apart a little bit," Yeo said. "I don't want to create this sense that there is a huge division between the team. If you went inside every locker room, every team has things to deal with. 

"There was some stuff created through the media about young versus old or 'the younger guys should be taking responsibilities from the older guys.' Obviously, that's going to make some guys defensive and some people will ask those questions." 

Persistent trade rumors during mid-January also may have had an adverse effect on the Wild, who reportedly were in talks with the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Ryan Johansen and with the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward Jonathan Drouin. 

Young defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba were discussed in potential trades. Yeo said those rumors may have affected how they played as a result. 

"That's my opinion and I could be wrong," Yeo said. "There were young players that were dealing with their name in the paper, and obviously that can be a bit of a distraction. I think there were some players that felt that it would have been good for us had we done it. That was my feeling but I just felt like at the time, our minds started to drift and we started to get away from our game. When we got away from it, that's when players started to struggle individually." 

The timing of Yeo's dismissal was especially tough. Following the game against the Bruins, Yeo remarked to his assistants that he had a feeling he had coached his final game with the Wild and "something had to give." 

Minutes later, Yeo went to his office to prepare for an upcoming road trip. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher followed him in to deliver the news. 

"Even though I wasn't surprised, I wasn't prepared," Yeo said. "It was hard. And it was hard for Chuck. We have a history together. There is absolutely zero ill will from me towards Chuck. I am so grateful for him and everything that he did, and I have so much respect for him as a hockey person." 

Eight days after he was fired, the Wild hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in a 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It was an event Yeo was looking forward to because he had been supportive of owner Craig Leipold's effort to bring an outdoor game to Minnesota for several years. 

"I've been trying to pump up that Minnesota deserves an outdoor game, and it's true," Yeo said. "I've been saying it since day one when I got here. I know what an amazing experience it would have been, so yeah, it was hard." 

In the immediate future, Yeo said he will enjoy spending more time with his family. He was able to visit his daughter, Braeden, last week in Colorado, where she is a freshman in college. 

Later Wednesday, his son Kyler, a junior on the hockey team at Hill-Murray School in St. Paul, Minn., will play in a section semifinal game, and Yeo will be present. 

He said being more of a traditional hockey dad suits him.

"One thing I love is hockey parents are crazy," Yeo said. "It's like spring break for them every time there is a game. It's fun to be a part of that and it's fun to have a little bit more of a normal approach to being a dad."

Yeo, 42, said he hopes to be an NHL head coach again soon. Though he refused to divulge what he has learned in his experience as coach of the Wild, Yeo said he already has turned the negatives into teachable moments.

"I already know I'm a better coach and I'll be a better coach moving forward," he said." [This] is just an unfortunate part of the job. I really believe that my best days as a coach are ahead of me."

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