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With first "season" under his belt, Evason is among historic company

Only four in NHL history have won more games in their first 82 as a head coach than Wild bench boss

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Now 21 months into his stint as the Wild's head coach, Dean Evason has finally reached a critical benchmark.

Minnesota's 4-2 win over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night marked Evason's 82nd game as the club's head coach - finally reaching "one full season's" worth of games.

This, despite the fact that Evason is technically in his third "season" as coach, and second as the club's full-time bench boss. 

Evason's time as head coach has been an unquestioned success, and that's not hyperbole. In the history of the NHL, only four coaches have won more games in their first 82 games as coach than the 53 Evason's teams have won.

That trails only Bep Guidolin (60) and Tom Johnson (59) of the Boston Bruins, Pat Burns (55) of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Keenan (54) of the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Among he's tied with, are Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks and Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Video: Dean Evason Monday practice update

"It means that our organization is going in the right direction," Evason said. "It means that when we took over as a staff, things have gone fairly well. We've had some success. But it means we're headed in the right direction."

Perhaps even more impressive is that Evason has helped guide the Wild during a period of unprecedented turmoil. 

Named interim coach of the Wild on Feb. 14, 2020, Minnesota went 8-4-0 before COVID-19 shutdown the season in mid-March, a stretch of hockey that was good enough to help get the Wild into the Edmonton playoff bubble, and earn himself the full-time position as head coach.

Last season, Minnesota's .670 points percentage was the best in franchise history, as the Wild finished third in the makeshift West Division, losing in seven games to the Vegas Golden Knights, which tied division champion Colorado for the most points in the NHL.

This season's 10-4-0 start matches the best 14-game start in franchise history, and so far, the Wild has the most road wins and is tied for the most road points in the NHL.

"I think it says a lot about our group, that it doesn't matter what situation presented itself," Evason said. "We've had a lot of adverse situations, but everybody in the world has, forget about hockey. 

"We've had some adverse situations that we've handled very well, but we've handled them well as an organization, as a management team, as a coaching team, but ultimately, our players. They have to buy into the thought process that it doesn't matter what happens outside of the game. When they step on the ice and the puck is dropped, they play the same way and they give themselves the opportunity. Ultimately, the players have to be the ones to dictate how things go and they've done that."

That team-first, buy-in mentality has infiltrated the locker room because Evason isn't afraid to play any player at any time in any situation.

On numerous occasions this year, he's stationed the club's fourth line on the ice in crucial end-of-game scenarios, closing out close wins or scoring big goals to send games to overtime. 

Minnesota has had its success this season despite a total of five goals from Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, who were the only two players to reach at least 20 goals last season.

So far, the WIld's goal-scoring bus has been driven by Ryan Hartman and Marcus Foligno - guys who have historically been role players, but have been provided expanded opportunities this season because they've continued to reward their coach's faith.

That faith hasn't gone unnoticed in the dressing room, and it's a big reason why Evason is among a group of Hockey Hall of Famers and Stanley Cup winners at the top of that list.

"We work really hard for each other and we buy in on that. I think everybody in there knows that," said Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek. "It helps us that we know the guy next to you is doing his job and you do your job. It's worked out pretty well so far."

Newcomers to the organization have commented regularly about the positive culture inside the Wild dressing room, and while much of that comes from the team's leadership core, including captain Jared Spurgeon and alternate captains Matt Dumba and Marcus Foligno, that tone is also set by Evason, who puts an immense amount of trust in his players.

"Everyone is playing, everyone is pitching in," said Wild forward Rem Pitlick. "I think that speaks to Dean for sure, but I think it also speaks to the quality of the player that is here. It's a very deep team. There is a matureness about every player that is able to play in all situations. Dean needs to give that opportunity, but it's also the players that have to earn that opportunity."

Evason also trusts the other coaches on his staff.

Assistant coaches Bob Woods, Brett McLean and Darby Hendrickson, as well as goalie coach Freddy Chabot and video coaches Jonas Plumb and T.J. Jindra each have defined assignments, but also have the open-ended freedom to branch out. 

It's common practice here for the assistants to address the team between periods and before games. Jindra has been a staple on the ice as an extra coach this season, because the one-time college assistant he has an interest in continuing his ascension in the business. 

Evason supports that wholeheartedly.

"If you go in as a head coach and you talk to your team, and [you tell them] that everybody is important and it doesn't matter who's talking or who's running what special teams ... and they just see you do it, and they just hear you do it, you're not giving anybody else an opportunity either," Evason said. "The players don't want to hear one person talk every time in between periods or conduct every meeting. It's important that we have a role, and our coaching team is no different than our hockey team."

Players see it too.

"You can see everybody is involved," Eriksson Ek said. "We have four lines and every line contributes and everybody is scoring. Just making us believe in each other and working really hard for each other."

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