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One day at a time: More than just a cliche for Evason and Wild

Day-by-day mantra has helped club get back into postseason contention in the Western Conference

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- Wild interim coach Dean Evason sometimes catches himself doing it. Coaches and players in all sports are often creatures of habit, and in locker room settings, that often means using cliches as part of their interactions with curious members of the media.

Get pucks deep.

Score greasy goals.

Go to the dirty areas of the ice. 

During nearly every press availability since he was named the Wild's coach for at least the remainder of this season, Evason has said he's "taking things one day at a time."

Cliche for some, but for Evason, it's a life motto instilled in him at a young age by his mom, Sheila.

So when you hear it from Evason, don't simply hear it as empty words coming off the coach's lips. You can take it to the bank that it's what he's stressing to his hockey team.

"I know it's cliche, and a lot of people use it, but she's lived by it and I live by it," Evason said. "I get asked in [the media room], 'what's it going to be like the next three weeks?' How the heck do I know? I have no idea what it's going to be like. I know today was a good day as far as practice went. I know we're preparing tomorrow against the Vegas Golden Knights. And that's it. 

"Every time I say it, it almost sounds silly to me now, just because I'm saying it so often now. But I honestly don't think past today. I just can't. My mom instilled that in me a long time ago and I've been able to live by it. It's what I do."

This isn't a phrase he uses just when the cameras are on him either. It's one that he stresses as a major message to his team.

Former Wild coach Bruce Boudreau used to stress "winning the week," and how he would stress two or a three-game segments in order to keep the team focused on the near term.

But Evason is even more hyper-focused than that. So much so that his players started to use the phrase more often too. 

"I think he breaks it down to each game, each period and even each shift," said Wild forward Ryan Donato. "I think that helps us show up for every game because we can't be looking too far forward. We're more worried about what we're doing and not as much about what other teams are doing, which definitely brings a lot of confidence to the group."

Video: Dean Evason Wednesday practice update

The "day-by-day" mantra was one Evason stressed when he was head coach of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals as well. In six seasons with the Admirals, Evason's teams never had a losing record and the club made the Calder Cup Playoffs on four occasions.

"Oh yeah," confirmed Wild forward Kevin Fiala, who played parts of three seasons for Evason with the Admirals. "But especially with our position right now, there's nothing else you can do. You can look forward to two weeks from now, but you don't know what it's going to be like two weeks from now. Right now, the main focus is always the next day, the next game. I think it's a great thing to do."

Evason said the approach was important to him during his playing days, because it kept him hungry and focused every night. 

"Hockey is the same. You go through a game and you score a couple of goals, you've gotta just let it go," Evason said. "It's great. You can learn from why you scored, how you scored. But if you go minus-3, learn from it and let that go too and get ready to play the next one."

It's the perfect mindset for the Wild to be in because so much changes for the club in terms of its standing on an almost daily basis. 

A win last Thursday in San Jose put the Wild inside the top-8 in the Western Conference for the first time since early December. 

But an off day and a loss to Los Angeles two days later, combined with other results from around the League, pushed the Wild back out.

A win in Anaheim on Sunday moved the Wild to the top wildcard. But with three days between games, the Wild was forced to watch as it was bumped down to the second wildcard, then out of the playoffs again. 

All of that could change again with a win Thursday against the Golden Knights. Or, depending on what else happens around the League, it might not. If that's the case, the focus will turn to Philadelphia on Saturday. And after that, Nashville on Sunday.

In Evason's mind, there is no sense in dwelling on what Saturday and Sunday might look like because there is plenty that first goes into Thursday. 

"The more they hear us talk and how we want them to prepare ... ultimately, it's their team. It's them that are preparing to do it," Evason said. "We can say it as much as we want, but if they believe it, then it has a chance to work."

Minnesota's 8-4-0 record since Evason took over leads one to believe that the players have bought in. 

"Usually you hear that and it's like,' yeah, OK, one day at a time.' You don't just put it to use like you would like, it's something that is just said," Donato said. "But we're really doing it. I think we're just worried about that next opponent, that next game and after that, we keep on rolling and worry about the opponent after that.

"For us, we're not looking too far forward because I think if we do, we'll get too far ahead of ourselves and he knows that. I think he wants us to be counting on every game because that could be the difference between us making the playoffs and missing them."

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