A month ago, Minnesota Wild Assistant to the General Manager, Jim Mill was sifting through stacks of resumes from potential coaches of the Houston Aeros. Mill said he hoped to have his man to lead the club's primary developmental affiliate prior to the NHL Draft.
With more than a week to spare, Mill's search is over after tabbing Pittsburgh Penguins assistant, Mike Yeo to lead the club.
“He has been a winner at all levels and is a great fit for both the Wild and Aeros organizations,” said Mill, who finally had the chance to exhale after going through more than 80 applications. "We had so many great candidates, and at the end of the day we were in a position where we wouldn't have gone wrong with anybody. But what set Mike apart was his similar philosophy to our front office and that of Todd Richards."
That philosophy fits into the up-tempo style of hockey the Wild implemented with Richards at the helm as a rookie NHL coach last year.
"Pressuring the puck," stressed Mill. "He'll preach being responsible defensively, but being aggressive in his approach with how we want to play the game."
Yeo's familiarity with General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Richards was his reason for reaching out to Mill and coveting the Aeros opening.
"I'm very proud, happy and honored to be working with these guys," said Yeo. "I have a great deal of confidence in the direction they're going with this club. I'm honored to be part of the Minnesota Wild organization and working with these guys."
Yeo joined the Penguins as an assistant in 2005, and he helped lead the club to a Stanley Cup title in 2009. Yeo's primary responsibilities were coaching the power play and defensemen.
The 36-year-old returns to the team he spent five years playing left wing for from 1994 to 1999. As team captain, Yeo led the Aeros to the International Hockey League's Turner Cup in 1999.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the Wild organization and rejoin the Houston community,” Yeo said. “I look forward to building on the success the Aeros have established over the past 16 years.”
Following his Aeros career, Yeo suffered a career-ending knee injury, and he turned to coaching the following year as an assistant for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He served in that role for six years before moving on to Pittsburgh under head coaches, Michel Therrien and Dan Bylsma. His promotion came in 2005, when Wilkes-Barre set an AHL record for the best start to a season by boasting a 21-1-2-1 record with 15 straight wins.
"It was just myself and Michel at the time," said Yeo of his early years in Pittsburgh. "There was a big job in front of us as far as where Pittsburgh was at the time. I'm very happy and proud of the job we did in terms of bringing in discipline, bringing in accountability and bringing in structure to a team that didn't have a whole lot of it at the time. It was great to be a part of that."
All tolled, Yeo remained in the Penguins organization for 10 years.
"I know Pittsburgh thought very highly of him, and their loss is our gain. But Mike had been an assistant for a number of years at both levels, and had great success at both. He understands player development and he understands winning. And he understands how we play the game. He's the perfect fit."
While coaching at both levels, he worked with players such as Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, Maxime Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Yeo takes over the Houston reins following the departure of Kevin Constantine, another former coach in Pittsburgh. While Constantine was viewed as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, Yeo is termed by Mill as a "player's coach."
"He's a leader," said Mill matter-of-factly. "He's a disciplined player's coach."
In a sense, he'll be a Wild coach, preaching the same style of play that Aeros players can take with them if and when they fly to St. Paul to pull on the Wild jersey.
"As a coach, you want to give a player the best opportunity to succeed," he explained. "If he's going up and trying in his head to figure out new systems and new things that he's supposed to be doing, then he's not fully preparing himself to play. Not only that, you're thinking about the team, and Todd Richards. You want to make sure he has the confidence to put these guys on the ice and they know exactly what they're supposed to do."
Yeo will begin his duties immediately, and one of his first orders of business will be to sit with Mill to determine the rest of the Houston coaching staff.
"It will be Mike's call, with my oversight."