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Mike Yeo takes Wild firing in stride

On one-year anniversary, Blues coach says experience made him better at job

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Mike Yeo didn't need any reminders about the significance of Monday being Feb. 13.

"Oh yeah, thanks," Yeo, the coach of the St. Louis Blues, joked when it was mentioned by a member of the media that Monday was the one-year anniversary of his firing as coach of the Minnesota Wild.

Yeo admitted it was tough at the time but said he's a better coach for it.

"For me, I wouldn't be here today if that didn't happen and I don't think I'd be the coach that I was today if that didn't happen," Yeo said. "... At the time, it was very hard. Now, I'm actually happy that I went through it, to be honest with you. I know that I'm a better coach for it today. I know I still have to get better, but that's part of the process."

Yeo was 173-132-44 in four-plus seasons with the Wild, including 46-28-8 in 2014-15, which was the second-best record in Wild history. Yeo guided Minnesota to three straight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, including back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Second Round in 2014 and 2015, and is eager to elevate the Blues to the next level.

Yeo was hired by the Blues on June 13, 2016, to be associate coach for one season under Ken Hitchcock before transitioning to coach, but he was thrust into the role sooner than expected when the Blues fired Hitchcock on Feb. 1.

The Blues (29-22-5) are 5-1-0 under Yeo, including tying a season-high four straight wins heading into their game Wednesday at the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). He's been able to change not only as a person but as a coach during the past year.

The Blues have outscored opponents 20-8 since Yeo took over. Players say the fact that Yeo and Hitchcock share the same philosophies has helped the transition.

"It's a different voice, a different message, but a lot of the things are still the same," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's still the same personnel in here. He's not trying to come in here and re-invent the wheel.

"He'll be the first to tell you when he first came, he did say to me it's a learning experience for him. He wanted to obviously change things. He took the time to come in here and learn from [Hitchcock] and learn from the guys that are here, kind of take a step back to figure out what he did well, what he didn't do well. He's kind of implementing all that now."

Goalie Jake Allen, who on Monday was named NHL Second Star for the week ending Feb. 12 after going 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .967 save percentage, said Yeo's positive presence has been a key for the Blues.

"He's to the point. Everything he says is a valid point. He's a realist. He knows that there's going to be mistakes, there's going to be turnovers, but it's the way we come back from those mistakes, those turnovers, those tough minutes in games," Allen said. "I think he's done a really good job so far. He's upbeat. He's positive. He brings a lot of energy to our practices, they're intense, execution's been good. It's been really good so far."

Yeo has given plenty of credit to Hitchcock, who was 248-124-41 in parts of six seasons with the Blues, for helping transition him into his second coaching role in the NHL. Now that he's in charge, Yeo hopes a few minor changes will continue to elevate the Blues back into the upper echelon of the Western Conference.

Still, Yeo knows all too well how Hitchcock is feeling.

"I know what [Hitchcock] is going through right now, I know what all these coaches have gone through," Yeo said. "Once you get through it, you're better."

Yeo was one of the first to reach out to Claude Julien, who was fired as Boston Bruins coach last Tuesday, just as Julien did when Yeo was fired. 

"The coaching fraternity is a pretty close group," Yeo said. "I had a number of guys reach out with experience and basically tell me how good it would be for me and to use that opportunity to kind of unwind a little bit and spend some time with your family, but more importantly to really dig in and figure out and to learn from that experience.

"I think if you look around the League, you've seen a lot of coaches who are the top coaches in the League who are not still with their first team, and I think part of that is because of that experience of learning when things went well, what you did, but even more so things that you can do better."

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