I promised myself I wouldn’t write much about the Wild here at Backhand Shelf because I know you guys don’t want to read about irrelevant teams any more than I do
But the other day I saw this tweet and it stopped me in my tracks. THESE guys are talking about the Wild? They care who the Wild’s goalie is? They know minor league stats for their third string goalie?
Indeed, they are paying attention. Lots of people are, actually, though some have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a reality where a) the Wild are good and b) they aren’t your Jacques Lemaire, sleepytime trap team anymore.
Yes, the Wild are finally relevant, thank Yeo very much. And frankly, Wild fans don’t quite know what to do with themselves, besides wait for the other shoe to drop, as years of disappointment would indicate to be the best course of action.
But every game goes by and the shoe doesn’t drop. Players who have been vital to the team’s success get injured, call-ups from Houston fill in, and the shoe stays put. Stat heads say, “This shouldn’t be happening. It’s not sustainable,” and yet the shoe defies the gravity of such statistics.
Having watched coaching phenom Mike Yeo last season in the AHL, I told my Wild friends they should be thrilled to have him behind the bench. But like good skeptics (who’d also been told Todd Richards was going to be The Answer), they needed to see for themselves.
Well, they’ve seen for themselves, but still don’t quite understand it. And what’s a population to do when they Believe Something’s Happening but don’t Understand Why It’s Happening?
Call it a Miracle and start using the word “Faith” a lot.
And thus, welcome to the Church of Yeo.
Like any modern church, it has Twitter: @Churchof Yeo.
If I were a good reporter, I’d find out who is behind Church of Yeo and interview them, but I like not knowing who it is. I think it’s part of this mission of faith Wild fans are on. Don’t question it. Just go with it. Just believe.
And so, until we have a reason not to, we believe.
If you don’t yet believe, here’s a list of Yeosian Miracles for you to consider:
- Marek Zidlicky is sidelined with a concussion after only 18 games. Normally that would feel like a smiting from the gods to lose your “all star-nominated” defenseman early in the season, but this was without a doubt addition by subtraction. Every game was “is this Good Zids or Bad Zids tonight?” More often than not, it was the latter. Plug in one of the kids from Houston who knows Yeo’s system like clockwork, and away we go.
- Three NHL-ready goalies at your service. Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding were both on hot streaks before being injured (groin and “whiplash” respectively). No problem. Call up 21-year-old Hackett and have him pitch a shutout in his first 102 minutes of action to literally make NHL history. That happens all the time, right?
Defensive responsibility CAN work hand in hand with offensive prowess! You don’t have to settle for the trap and capitalizing on opponents mistakes! You CAN push the pace and be aggressive in the offensive end when you have a sound defensive strategy and good goaltending! Es un milagro!
- Nobody hates Dany Heatley yet. In fact, we like him so much, there’s another Twitter devoted just to the (fashion backward) white turtleneck he started wearing under his gear a few games back (@DanysTurtleneck). A tweeting turtleneck might not exactly be The Resurrection but it’s got to fall on the Scale of Miracles somewhere, right?
- Significant injuries to Wild players have cost them 82 games, not including games where one or both of the goalies couldn’t play or shorter term or recent injuries currently affecting the team. Those are just the “big ones.” What would have been a disaster any other year for this franchise has resulted in a revolving door of 9 call-ups from Houston, most of whom are well-versed in Yeo’s system. And during all this, not only have the Wild climbed to the top of the NHL, the Houston Aeros are 2 points out of first in the American League. And that’s with their own injury troubles in addition to the losses to call-ups.
- As Backhand Shelf’s resident stat head, Cam Charron, explained to me (ever so patiently because aughhhhstatszzzzzzkillmenow), the Wild’s possession statistics are that of, well, losers. They simply shouldn’t be winning this many games when the other team has the puck so much more and puts so many shots on net. And yet they do it. They win most games by a mere goal, they can always come back from getting in an early hole, they grind them down and press and honey badger their way through whatever the other team dishes out.
How does all this happen? Is it just a shrewd GM in Chuck Fletcher and a brilliant coach in Yeo?
What I see is a cycle of belief. Fletcher stuck his neck out to believe in another young coach, even after the Richards failure.
Yeo demonstrated belief in his players by letting them make mistakes early on, but never giving up on their ability to adapt to his system.
The players respond to this and buy in to Yeo’s system, and as wins start to happen, they believe in themselves and each other.
And as fans are starting to believe, media outside the Minnesota sphere are raising an eyebrow to get a better look at what’s going on in the State of Hockey. They may not believe yet, but for the first time in a very long time, they’re paying attention.
Well, most of them…