Hockey / Sports

The Minnesota Wild's Erik Haula (56) celebrates after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period in Game 6 of a Western Conference semifinal at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Mike Yeo's status as Wild coach up in the air

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If it were up to Ryan Suter, Wild coach Mike Yeo would have a contract extension on his desk already. Shortly after the Wild's 2-1 loss to Chicago in the deciding Game 6 of their playoff series, the veteran defenseman praised the team's third-year coach for the way he guided the Wild through new territory.

"He did a great job," Suter said of Yeo, whose three-year contract is set to expire with the season's end. "There were times when the wheels could have come off, and he kept it together. He was always levelheaded.

"I think he did a great job, and I think we're going to have a bright future with him."

Neither Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher nor owner Craig Leipold has offered hints as to whether Yeo will remain as coach. But in his first time leading a team to the second round of the NHL playoffs, Yeo won praise for his cool handling of the Wild throughout a seven-game victory over Colorado and a six-game defeat by Chicago.

The contracts of the entire coaching staff end with the end of this season.

With reddened eyes and a voice cloaked in sadness, Yeo thanked the Wild fans after the game and spoke of how confident he was that his team would win. The NHL's youngest coach at age 40, he was unable to describe how he felt when Patrick Kane's winning goal slipped past Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and he couldn't find words to express how he has grown as a coach through the playoff run.

"I don't know," Yeo said. "I'd have to reflect on that. What it's done for me is make me realize this group, what they're made of."

Much of Yeo's postgame remarks centered on his pride in his players, his fulfillment in seeing the advances they made this season and his pain at the loss. Several players, including assistant captains Suter and Zach Parise, returned the compliments.

"I think (all the coaches) did a good job," Parise said. "We were prepared. We made adjustments when we needed to make adjustments, and we switched lines when we needed to.

"I think when you go through the playoffs, when you go through the first and second rounds like we did, you're bound to become closer as a team and a unit. I think we did that. We grew. We raised the expectations."

Yeo's job status was a hot topic late in the regular season, when the team staggered through March before righting itself and making a playoff run. Throughout the playoffs, the Wild developed a persona as a fearless, energetic and persistent team.

Behind the bench, Yeo maintained his composure and kept his team on the emotional middle ground, allowing it just enough joy in its triumphs and guiding it quickly past its stumbles. He set a calm and confident tone for a team heavy with young players and veterans with limited playoff experience. He also shepherded the development of players such as Erik Haula, whose talent shined even brighter in the postseason.

After Game 4 of the Chicago series, Yeo was asked if he had taken any time to reflect on what his team had accomplished thus far. "I'm not thinking of that at all," he said. "I'm not trying to reflect on anything except the fact that I'm proud and excited that we're still going here. We're very determined to keep going forward."

Suter, though, had some thoughts on that topic after the game. "I think Chuck has done a very good job of changing the culture here," he said. "We expect to win now. We put that pressure on ourselves.

"It says a lot about (Yeo) and the GM, the way they handled this year. There were a lot of ups and downs, dark days, and we would always come out of it. It says a lot about those guys, and also the group of guys."

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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