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Evason's long-awaited opportunity becomes reality

Wild's new head coach had the interim tag officially removed from his title Monday

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- When Dean Evason walked into TRIA Rink on Monday morning for the official start of the NHL's Phase 3 Return to Play, his players had no indication that the man striding into the building had been granted the promotion of a lifetime. 

When general manager Bill Guerin announced to the team that he had removed the interim tag from Evason's title, making him the fifth full-time head coach in Wild history, there was excitement in the dressing room. 

"Everybody was happy," said Wild forward Kevin Fiala, who has played for Evason more than anybody in Minnesota's dressing room. "I think everybody feels the same way I feel about Dean. He was an assistant coach here for a couple years, and last year when I came, everybody liked him."

Fiala credits Evason for getting his career on track when the two were paired together in the Nashville Predators system with the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals. He burst onto the scene in 2014-15, scoring 11 goals in 33 games with the Admirals. Fiala followed it up with a 50-point season the following year, putting himself on the map as one of Nashville's top prospects.

But more than the on-ice success the two have had together, it's the off-ice direction that Fiala received from Evason that has helped steer his career to where it is now: on the brink of super stardom. 

Video: Wild names Evason full-time head coach

"I always liked him. He's a great communicator and a great coach," Fiala said. "I've had some tough fights with him, small fights, but in the end, I'm very happy that he showed me the way, off the ice mostly and on the ice as well. Very happy that he's with us."

The Wild hopes Evason can help do that for Minnesota's other young players as well.

With a lineup flush with emerging talent, including Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek and the newly signed Kirill Kaprizov, Evason will be tasked with meshing the team's up-and-comers with a veteran forward group that boasts Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Foligno. 

It's a position Evason said he feels comfortable in.

"We've got young, youth guys that are coming up. Yes we've got some veterans, just like a lot of teams in the league, and that's awesome to lead, but we have some very exciting players coming and or are playing now on our hockey club," Evason said. "So we think we've got some real good depth, some real good mix of both in our lineup and hopefully the combinations that we're putting together as far as the line combinations and the D-pairings will show that. We'll have experience as well as that youthful excitement that some guys bring to the game."

Guerin had plenty of time to figure out what he wanted to do behind the bench. 

The Wild went 8-4-0 in 12 games after Evason took over as interim coach in February, helping guide Minnesota to within one point of a playoff spot when COVID-19 forced the NHL to hit pause. 

For three months, Guerin thought about his plans for the job, including an exhaustive search. But the more he weighed what he was looking for in a new head coach, the more Guerin realized he had exactly what he was looking for already in the building.

"I probably made the decision in my head about a month ago. And just wanted to wait and sleep on it a couple times," Guerin said. "I was pretty confident that I was going to make the right decision. [I talked] about it with my hockey ops staff and then talked to [owner] Craig [Leipold] about it a few times. The more I talked about it, the more confident that I was that this was the right decision.

"I wanted Dean to be able to walk into the hub as the head coach and we'll get rid of that interim tag. This is something that he's worked long and hard for, and he's earned it. I'm confident that this was the right decision."

Evason said the feeling of walking into the dressing room for the first time as the team's official head coach gave him some butterflies on Sunday night when he began to put together a specific plan for practice. 

"But to be honest with you, as soon as Billy talked to the group and turned it over to us, everything was gone," Evason said. "It's funny, you get in put in a spot over and over again and you get an opportunity to do it, and it just feels comfortable. And it was very comfortable today. We had a really, really good meeting and then stepping on the ice it felt great."

When it comes to proving his boss right, Evason said he isn't one to put extra pressure on himself. He believes, if he shows up every day and does his job the best he can, the results will take care of themselves. 

That's all he can control. 

"I've had many experiences to get to this opportunity. I'm going to draw on all of them and obviously lean on the staff clearly. We've got a great hockey staff here that is very committed," Evason said. "I put high expectations on myself to be the best coach that I possibly can, to lead the group to have success. So that's what we're going to do."


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