The Minnesota Wild is hoping a coaching change can spur the team to a postseason berth in 2012. For inspiration, the club can look within the organization for evidence that it can be done.
Last summer, the Houston Aeros were without a head coach until an exhaustive search by Aeros General Manager Jim Mill ended with the hire of Mike Yeo. The first-time head coach and former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant led a remarkable turnaround as Houston posted a 46-28-1-5 record and finished second in the American Hockey League's Western Conference.
"We knew [Yeo] was going to be a successful coach," said Mill. "But to have that reinforced with a 46-win season, second place in the conference and top five in the entire league…you can't say that you planned it, but you want it.
"But there's a lot of work to be done."
The Aeros begin their quest for the Calder Cup tonight in Game 1 of a first round playoff matchup with the Peoria Rivermen. Wild fans may remember that the Aeros and Rivermen squared off at Xcel Energy Center back in February.
Houston is led by veterans and young Wild building blocks for the future. The top offensive point producers have been Jon DiSalvatore
, Robbie Earl and Patrick O'Sullivan. But Casey Wellman has put up 35 points (14-21=35) in 42 games and Cody Almond
tallied 34 points (15-19=34) in 34.
The nature of the AHL playoffs is that teams get an infusion of minor league eligible players that were with the NHL club at the end of the season. The Aeros are no different as Jared Spurgeon
, Maxim Noreau, Carson McMillan
and Colton Gillies.
While Mill acknowledges it can be tough for a full season player to see a decrease in ice time, he's not worried about any chemistry issues.
"Good teams respond to those moves positively, which our guys were able to do all year," said Mill. "Each player contributed and did what they needed to do to be part of a successful run."
The Aeros may also be getting a boost from the addition of Marco Scandella
, who is close to returning from a broken finger. Scandella has been ruled out of the first two games, but will accompany the team to Peoria and may get in the lineup by Game 3.
The goaltending duties will fall squarely on Matt Hackett
, who took over the full-time starting role as a rookie once Anton Khudobin was dealt in a trade deadline deal with Boston. Since the trade, Hackett lowered his goals against average to 2.37 and boasts a .916 save percentage to go along with a 23-16-4 record.
"This is a great challenge for the organization, and the players too," explained Mill. "These are the things that good organizations do. They make the playoffs in the American League, and they have runs in the American League. Pittsburgh has done it with Wilkes-Barre, Nashville does it with Milwaukee. Washington's done it in Hershey and Vancouver with Manitoba.
"To build for the future, these teams need to have success and the veterans help the kids and the kids help the veterans. And they learn to win together."