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First Year Coach Has Plenty Of Experience

by Aaron Paitich / Minnesota Wild

Hanging up the skates wasn’t easy for Darryl Sydor. So he decided against it.

After 18 seasons in the NHL, the 38-year-old veteran instead exchanged his jersey for a whistle – and the Houston Aeros are reaping the benefits.

Aeros Head Coach Mike Yeo named Sydor his assistant coach last summer. That decision has paid dividends.

“You can’t say enough of what he’s done for these guys,” said Yeo, who also won a Stanley Cup in 2009 as a Penguins assistant coach. “From a tactical standpoint and a positional standpoint, what he can offer to those guys is invaluable but I think more than anything else, you’ve got a guy who’s played for so long that he understands the emotions and the mental aspects of the game that he can share with these guys as far as how to prepare, as far as how to be a pro and how to bounce back from a tough game and how to stay sharp when you’re playing well.”

Sydor knows all about winning, preparation, execution, adversity and everything in between.

The 1990 seventh-overall pick by Los Angeles played 1,291 games in the NHL, including tours with the Kings, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The All-Star defenseman tallied 507 points and won two Stanley Cups in his illustrious career.

Sydor may be a first-year coach, but he had already possessed experience working with younger defensemen. As years passed, the Edmonton native felt it was his duty to mentor up-and-coming blueliners.

“I guess the last few years of my career, obviously being an older guy you kind of try and start helping out the younger guys and I had a lot of fun doing it,” Sydor said.

So after his retirement, Yeo and the Minnesota Wild organization presented an opportunity for Sydor to take a different path in life. It remained in hockey – and he gladly accepted.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for Sydor, who took awhile to get used to showing up at the rink in a suit, and leaving it on throughout the game.

“You can’t get on the ice to have any control in the outcome,” Sydor said. “You can’t put those skates on and go out into battle, you’ve got to do it from behind the bench.”

Sydor continues to learn a lot behind the bench – no different from his playing days. He’s asking a lot of questions and keeping in touch with a strong network that includes Yeo, Wild defensive coach and Sydor’s former Dallas Stars coach Rick Wilson, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and Ken Hitchcock – all of whom have won Stanley Cups.

What Yeo and the players are raving about is his communication skills and ability to relate with his defensemen.

Justin Falk has been up and down with the Wild a few times the past two seasons, and Sydor’s tutelage this year has been invaluable, whether it’s dealing with adversity or learning small aspects of the game.

Coach Sydor “gets it.”

“I don’t know if it’s because he’s fresh out of the NHL, that he knows how the ropes work, but most of the time he knows what we’re thinking and when to say something to us and he knows when we know we screwed up,” said Falk, the Wild’s 2007 fourth-round draft pick.

Sydor’s addition in Houston has produced success not only through an impressive team record and playoff run, but overall production and efficiency in its defensive core.

This regular season, the Aeros finished with a plus-28 goal differential compared to last season’s minus-18. That’s a 46-goal swing in the span of just one year, which can be attributed to a variety of components, but something the defense can largely be commended for.

Jared Spurgeon was the biggest story of the year. Once the 2010 free-agent acquisition was called up by the Minnesota Wild, he stayed for good. Nate Prosser finished with 27 points and a plus-12 rating. Maxim Noreau finished fifth in scoring amongst all AHL defensemen. Marco Scandella tallied 19 points in 33 games while battling injuries. Falk jumped from a minus-6 last season to a plus-16.

Overall, the defense helped bring the Aeros out of the West Division cellar one year ago all the way up to second best in the Western Conference

“And if you look at the development of every one of our defensemen, certainly you can look at Darryl as a key reason for that,” Yeo said.
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