Coming home with a 3-2 record following their five-game road swing was a nice way for the Penguins to get back into their normal practice routine at Mellon Arena on Monday morning. What was even better was the sight of assistant coach Mike Yeo returning to the ice for the first time since becoming ill in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 2.
“It felt great to be back out there,” said Yeo, who will be back behind the bench when the Penguins take on the New York Islanders Tuesday night. “It felt great coming in this morning. The guys and the entire organization – everybody’s been great through this whole thing. So, it was nice to get back with the guys and get back to work.”
Yeo’s colleagues were just as happy to have him back.
“I told him I didn’t expect to miss him as much as I did,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
“He was missing things, I’m sure,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “It was good to see that he was feeling OK. I think everybody was happy to see him back out there.”
Yeo addressed reporters following practice for the first time since he first became ill. Everyone was happy to hear that all his tests are still coming back positive and that Yeo now feels as good as ever.
“What happened is that I had some issues with my blood pressure,” he said. “It was spiking up on me. Since then, we haven’t found the cause. Every test that we’ve done has come back with great results and I’m happy to say now that I’ve been on some medication and seem to have everything under control.
“I thought that I had passed the stress test many times before that. But, that was a different one. As I’ve said, I’ve gone through a number of tests, and the result has come back positive, and apparently I’m in much better shape than I thought I was.”
Following that Jan. 2 game, Yeo was examined by doctors and admitted to a Florida hospital where a series of stress tests were done to check his blood pressure. He remained in the hospital for three days before flying back to Pittsburgh in time to watch the Jan. 7 contest against the Philadelphia Flyers from the press box.
The next day the Penguins announced Yeo would not be accompanying the team at the beginning of their five-game, nine-day road swing, but would re-join them later in the trip. However, with assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who served as an interim assistant coach last spring following Bylsma’s hiring, with the team and available to pitch in behind the bench, Yeo ended up staying in Pittsburgh for the duration of the trip.
“He was hoping to get out there for the end of that trip, and we decided to keep him at home until we got home,” Bylsma said. ”It was good to see him back in the morning when we got here, adding him to our discussion, and then getting him on the ice and being back with the group. So, it’s very good to see him.”
Yeo said it was tough having to watch from afar, especially because he had never so much as missed a game or a practice prior to this in his coaching career.
“Well, you definitely don’t get as good of a feel sitting at home with my dog in my lap watching,” Yeo said. “You don’t get the same feel for the game. You don’t have the luxury of rewinding plays and going back and watching things in slow motion. You don’t have different views where you can see different players and where they are on the ice.
“So, you really don’t get a good feel for it, and you don’t understand the other things - when you’re on the bench and the emotions that are involved in the game and the things that have gone on to lead up to that situation. I think I was probably just approaching it more as a fan instead of from an evaluative standpoint.”
Presumably healthy and eager to get back on the job, Yeo couldn’t help but thank Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero and the rest of the organization for allowing him to take his time returning to his duties.
“I’m thankful to Dan and Ray and everyone in the organization – they let me have some time to be at home with my family,” Yeo said. “It was a bit of a scary time. They gave me some time to be with them. … I’m just happy to be back, and I feel rested, and I’m excited to move forward through the rest of the season.”