Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma will have to make a change to his 2010-11 coaching staff after it was announced on Wednesday that assistant coach Mike Yeo is leaving to become the new head coach of the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. Houston is the Minnesota Wild’s top minor-league affiliate.
|Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma (right) and the rest of the Pittsburgh organization were pleased to hear Mike Yeo named head coach of the Houston Aeros. Credit - Getty Images |
This will be the first head coaching gig for the 36-year-old North Bay, Ontario native following four-plus seasons behind the bench for the Penguins. During Yeo’s tenure he helped transform the Penguins from the league’s second-worst outfit in ’05-06 to Stanley Cup champions in ’09.
Bylsma thanked Yeo for his hard work and dedication to the Penguins organization while also talking about how he believes Yeo is ready to lead his own team.
“I am really pleased for Mike Yeo,” Bylsma said. “We all have aspirations and Mike has them to be a head coach. He has had the opportunity to learn here and in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with different head coaches. You can see the progression and the quality of coach that he is. For him to get recognized and get that opportunity in a place where people know he is a quality person is great for Mike.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero echoed Bylsma’s sentiments.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for him and his family in the American Hockey League,” Shero said. “I talked to Mike the past couple of years about his career goals and (eventually) becoming a head coach in the National Hockey League. We talked about this being a path he might have to take. I am very happy for Mike. He was a big contributor to our staff and a huge reason why we won a Stanley Cup.”
Shero said the Penguins are in no rush to find a replacement for Yeo. Right now Shero has asked Bylsma, Granato, goaltending coach Gilles Meloche and assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald to think of prospective candidates to talk to as the offseason progresses.
“We will put together a list of candidates,” Shero said. “We will look at our criteria and look to fill that void in the future.”
While working closely with Yeo the past year and a half in Pittsburgh, Bylsma has come to appreciate the strengths Yeo will take with him to Houston.
“Mike has a great work ethic,” Bylsma described. “He takes great pride in his own work as well as the players around him. He is also a guy who is willing to learn and grow. He has shown that. He has been able to take what he’s learned from Michel Therrien and what he learned (as a player) in the American Hockey League and added to what we have done here in Pittsburgh alongside myself and (assistant coach) Tony (Granato). That is why he has continued to grow and will continue to be successful.”
Yeo will be reunited in with current Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, who served as assistant general manager of the Penguins between 2005-08, and Wild head coach Todd Richards, who was the WBS head coach from 2006-08.
“At his age the time is right for him,” Shero said. “He has a relationship with Chuck Fletcher and Todd Richards in Minnesota, plus he played in Houston for a number of years and was a really popular player there. This is great news for his development. The AHL is a great league for coaches to develop.”
In addition to knowing people within the front office, Yeo might also have the chance to coach several players with ties to the Penguins organization who spent time with the Aeros last season in forwards Andy Hilbert, Nathan Smith and Jean-Michel Daoust and defenseman Ryan Lannon.
Yeo will be making a homecoming with the Aeros as he replaces former Penguins head coach Kevin Constantine, whose contract was not renewed following three seasons behind the Houston bench.
During his playing days Yeo spent five seasons with the Aeros between 1994-95 and ’98-99 when the team was a member of the now-defunct International Hockey League. He was the captain of the ’99 squad which captured the Turner Cup championship.
Yeo’s coaching career began the next season when a knee injury ended his playing days just 19 games into his first season with the Baby Penguins in 1999.
At just 26 years of age, Yeo was asked by then-WBS head coach Glenn Patrick to serve as an assistant coach with the team, a spot he retained when Therrien took over behind the bench prior to the ’03-04 campaign.
Yeo spent five full seasons and parts of two others as an assistant at WBS before accepting his first NHL coaching assignment on Dec. 15, 2005 when Therrien was promoted to Pittsburgh to replace Eddie Olczyk.
During Yeo’s time with the Baby Penguins, WBS made two runs to the Calder Cup Final (2000-01 and ’03-04). Combine that with back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances with the Penguins, including a championship in ’09, and Yeo has certainly proven himself capable of leading a team deep into the postseason.
Shero and Bylsma both believe that Yeo’s penchant for winning probably helped to play a factor in Fletcher’s decision to give Yeo his first head-coaching opportunity.
“There are not too many people who have a Stanley Cup on their resume and can also say they worked with players like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin,” Shero said. “He also worked with many of our younger players and helped develop them to play in Pittsburgh.”
“He now has a lot of experience to take with him winning hockey games and being a Stanley Cup champion and working with the best players in the game,” Bylsma added. “All of those experiences are going to suit him well being a head coach.”