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Wild's 'day-at-a-time' coach earns much-deserved multi-year extension

Evason, staff, have been among the NHL's most successful, and will now aim for even higher ground ... together

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Dean Evason played 803 NHL games during his decade-long career as a player. He skated in another 91 games in the American Hockey League and 95 more overseas. 

He's served as a head coach in the Western Hockey League, six years in the AHL and is currently in his third season as the bench boss of the Minnesota Wild. He's spent another decade as an assistant coach in the NHL too.

In all that time in the game, he's been coached by dozens of men, coached with and around dozens more ... but there remains one person perhaps more influential than anyone else as to why Evason is the way he is: his 81-year-old mom, Sheila.

His authenticity and attention to detail? Comes from his mom. His steadfast focus on the present and refusal to look too far into the future? That wisdom comes from her too. 

Those attributes have helped Evason to a historic first 98 games as the Wild's head coach, a stretch of games that earned the 57-year-old hockey man a multi-year contract extension to remain in his post as head coach in Minnesota. 

It's an announcement that Evason was actually hoping would come after the Winter Classic. Even though the deal has been done for a couple of days, the only person in his "circle" who knew of it was his wife, Genevieve. 

He was planning on sharing the news with Sheila, and his three children Bryce, Brianne and Brooke after each arrived in town for the Winter Classic. 

Bryce and Brooke arrived on Wednesday with their significant others as well as Evason's grandson, Connor, but with Brianne's arrival not scheduled until Thursday - and the team's desire to break the good news ahead of the big event on Saturday - Evason got the group that was here together for a celebratory dinner on Wednesday night and FaceTimed Brianne in for the big reveal.

"They've been asking questions and asked if we've heard anything," Evason said. "I think the other people around you, the loved ones around you, care a little bit more about the status of that stuff more than [I] do.

"But as my entire family understands, like my mum always says, it's one day at a time and you control only what you can control. My mum is the head of that, and my entire family understands that as well as I do."

It was an announcement that Evason wanted to share with his family, much like he was able to do for his first NHL win as a head coach in Vancouver in 2020.

Evason has had immediate success since taking over as head coach a month before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, leading the club to a 62-29-7 record (.668) in 98 games. Minnesota ranks fourth in the NHL goals scored (332), tied for fourth in wins, sixth in point percentage (.668) and tied for seventh in points (131) over that span. 

During that time, Minnesota has registered four winning streaks of five games or more.
In his first full season as the team's fifth full-time head coach, Evason led the Wild to a 35-16-5 record in 56 games, recording the highest point percentage (.670) and the second-most wins and team points through 56 games in franchise history.

For his efforts, he was named a finalist for the 2021 Jack Adams Award, presented annually to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success.

So far this season, Minnesota is 19-9-2 and entered the day Wednesday as the top team in the Central Division standings and second in the Western Conference, two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights, who had played three more games. 

But Evason would be the first to tell you - in fact he'd insist - that his and the team's success over the past two years has been a byproduct of every single person in the dressing room, including the men on his coaching staff. 

Among them, assistants Bob Woods, Brett McLean and Darby Hendrickson, goaltending coach Freddy Chabot and video coaches Jonas Plumb and T.J. Jindra.

Because of that team success, they will all proceed forward together, and Evason said he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

"It was very important to me personally, and obviously important to the organization to have us all done at the same time," Evason said. "We talk all the time about our team on the ice being team-first mentality, and it's no different in the coaches room. We're team-first and it's a group effort. It's not one guy, it's not individuals running different situations or departments, it's all of us as a whole. We're all taking credit when things are good and we're all gonna take accountable when things go the other way."

Evason wears his emotions on his sleeve, as evidenced by his steely demeanor on the bench. 

That translates to the coaches room, where Evason admits he and his staff often have passionate, heated debates about certain approaches and ways to chart a course forward. But Evason said he's not interested in a staff of "yes" men. 

His only interest is in winning and doing whatever it takes to deliver the State of Hockey its first Stanley Cup. It's a vision and a passion he and Wild GM Bill Guerin share, and it's a big reason why their partnership has flourished from day one.

"Everybody has their opinion, but everybody has a voice and everybody makes it comfortable in knowing people can speak up and have a say," Evason said. "I think our entire organization does that from right at the top."

That mantra is a philosophy Evason says he's always believed in.

"I think it comes from being in a team-first mentality and a structure throughout our lives and all of our playing careers," Evason said. "And I think in any business, you have to have a common goal of having the organization have success in order to have individual success after that. 

"There's no question that people see Billy Guerin as the General Manager, but they don't always see all the people that are around him helping make decisions. It's the same with myself. You see me in the press conferences but it's a team thing, it's the help of others, it's the opinions of others. It's making a decision there and then presenting it after that to, not only media, but to our players."

A native of Flin Flon, Manitoba, Evason was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the fifth round of the 1982 NHL Draft and worked his way as a player through the WHL, making his debut on the ice with the Caps during the 1983-84 season. 

He'd play just 17 games with the Capitals over two seasons before getting his first real break with the Hartford Whalers in 1985, when he scored 20 goals and skated in 55 games. He was a staple for the Whalers for five seasons before moving on to the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991, where he spent two seasons, played two more years for the Dallas Stars before finishing his NHL playing career with the Calgary Flames in 1995-96.

Three seasons in Europe wrapped ip his playing career, but he was far from finished with the sport, following a similar path up the ranks as a coach, first in the Western League, then as an NHL assistant with the Capitals. 

His first big break as a head coach in pro hockey came with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2012-13, and he'd spend the next six years in southeast Wisconsin with the Predators organization, leading the Admirals to the playoffs four times. 

A return to the NHL as an assistant followed when he re-joined Bruce Boudreau and Woods in 2018-19 - the same trio that made up the bench in Washington when he was an assistant there a decade earlier.

When Boudreau was relieved of his duties on Feb. 14, 2020, Evason was named the interim head coach. He had the interim label removed prior to the Edmonton bubble later that summer.

He entered the current campaign in the final season of his contract, but as they have during his entire tenure, the wins just kept on coming. 

Guerin has said on numerous occasions that he wanted to keep Evason and his staff in Minnesota for the foreseeable future, and now, just two days before the 2022 Discover Winter Classic, that goal can be checked off the to-do list. 

"Obviously I'd be lying we all weren't talking about it in the room and wondering what was going to happen," Evason said. "We're all relieved as a staff that we're going to go forward as a group here and be able to continue going forward of getting to our ultimate goal."

Photo by Erin Loughrey

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