ON THE BEAT ROAD: MIKE YEO
The best way I can describe former Penguins ASST MIKE YEO is as a class act. He was always willing to explain his approach and strategy, and I can say I always left a conversation with him understanding better the game-planning in hockey. He was most willing when the heat was on him from Penguins fans and the media. No assistant coach should be in the spotlight as much as Yeo was, but he never hid from it.
In January, after Yeo was hospitalized because of his high blood pressure, I wrote that HC DAN BYLSMA should remove the power-play duties from Yeo. Bylsma and I discussed that column, and it was one of the few discussions we’ve had that wasn’t pleasant. He perceived that I was blaming Yeo for some of the club’s struggles. I explained that I didn’t blame Yeo, that I actually held him in such high regard that I was worried the stress that came with constantly hearing his power play bashed might have contributed to Yeo’s blood-pressure spike.
My favorite moment from last season was when Yeo returned behind the Penguins’ bench. It was where he belonged, and he’ll belong behind an NHL bench again — probably as a head coach after a successful stint in that capacity with the Houston Aeros of the AHL.
A recap of my chat with Yeo from Wednesday …
Q: How difficult was the decision to leave the Penguins?
A: I didn’t want to pass this up. It was something that, when I saw it, I thought, “This is the one.” The timing is perfect for me in terms of my professional career. Those people in Minnesota who I know; the background in Houston when I was a player; it all made sense. It’s important where you go and who you surround yourself with, that’s how you have success.
It’s funny. Our two organizations – Minnesota and the Penguins – there are lot of ties. We dealt with each other, me and (Wild GM) Chuck (Fletcher), and with (head coach) Todd (Richards) there were always great talks during the season. Todd worked with Dan, and I’ve been with Dan for a year and a half. So there is a natural connection.
Some people might look at me and say, “This guy is nuts; look at this group of players, look at the management and ownership.’ People might think I’ve been crazy for how well I’ve been treated here. Leaving wasn’t something I was just going to rush out and do.
Q: How did your health scare in January play into this decision?
A: Going through it, I knew I could learn from it or it could end my career. I did learn from it. I take care of myself better. By nature, I’m pretty focused and intense, and I’ve had to deal with that better. I’m still a young guy.
I have high blood pressure. I can thank my dad for that. Everything on top of that, and the fact that I wasn’t dealing well with it. … Look, the fact that I had four months after to manage it is not something I’m concerned about going forward.
Q: Did dealing with the scrutiny you were seemingly always under because you coached the power play help prepare you to be a head coach?
A: That stuff aside, I am 100 percent confident I’m ready for this. I can thank Dan, Michel (Therrien) and Ray (Shero) for all the opportunities I was given here. There were times these guys gave me head coaching responsibilities, and it gave me confidence going forward. I’ve learned how to deal with those pressures.
Q: Had you learned to tune out the criticism?
A: I don’t know I ever really felt like that. As much as we all like to pretend it doesn’t bother us, that we don’t care what people think – you know what, I did care. There was some negativity, but I was also taken by the support I got from the fans. I’m never going to leave Pittsburgh and look back at the bad stuff.
Q: How do you envision your success with the Penguins – you and Therrien helped change the culture from losing to winning – helping with your new job?
A: Those experiences give you more credibility. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve been around winners. I’m not going to say it was because of me, but I know what it takes. Twice to finals in AHL, twice to Final in NHL, I’ve won a title as a player and a coach in an 11 year span.
• Bylsma on Yeo: “My perspective on the power play being bad because of Mike, well that doesn’t work for me. In my min,d we were all responsible. I felt fully confident in Mike being the go-to-guy to run that team in a meeting or on the ice. Mike had my complete confidence.
“I don’t feel like he ever got enough credit for our success. People on the outside don’t realize the quality of coach he was, the quality of person he is. He had the confidence of everybody on our team.”
• C JORDAN STAAL on Yeo: “He’s a very good coach. There’s a reason he stayed when Therrien left. He loves talking to the guys. He used that to his advantage. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Staal on the presumed need for disciplinarian to replace Yeo: “I don’t think you need a bad cop. We have the players in the room to take that responsibility, and our coach doesn’t shove it down your throat, but he keeps you honest.