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Ex-coach Yeo recalls his Wild days fondly

ST. LOUIS -- For the past three weeks during his first training camp with the St. Louis Blues, Mike Yeo tried to immerse himself in his new team, one he'll take over as head coach in a year.

ST. LOUIS - For the past three weeks during his first training camp with the St. Louis Blues, Mike Yeo tried to immerse himself in his new team, one he'll take over as head coach in a year.

He studied video, met with players and focused his attention on the Blues' first game of the year against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, conveniently ignoring their second foe: the Minnesota Wild, his former team.

But as the Wild head to St. Louis to open their season against the Blues on Thursday night, Yeo no longer can avoid the fact that he is about to face his former team for the first time since he was fired in February.

"Of course once the schedule came out, it didn't take long for me to figure out that would be an important one for both teams," Yeo said of Thursday's game. "And probably an emotional one, too."

During a February swoon that featured 13 losses in 14 games, Yeo was fired in the middle of his fifth season as Wild head coach. It was a necessary move during an up-and-down season even if it became clear shortly thereafter that Yeo wasn't the sole problem.

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After initial feelings of betrayal wore off in the days after his firing, Yeo set his sights on landing another head coaching job.

With limited openings, Yeo accepted a head coach-in-waiting gig with the Blues, a Central division rival of the Wild, where he will serve as an associate under Ken Hitchcock before replacing the Stanley Cup winner when Hitchcock, 64, retires at the end of this season.

It's a role Yeo thinks will set him up for success even if it's not the immediate head coaching gig he sought initially.

"I look at it now and obviously when you get dismissed or lose your head-coaching job, the first thing you think is, 'OK, I can't wait to get back on the horse again,' " Yeo said. "I was thinking then that I've learned all these lessons, but what I'm realizing now is I'm actually quite fortunate and real grateful that I have this year to sit back and learn. It's amazing how things are still coming to me about what I would do differently. ... I feel like as I've been able to sit back and take a different role, things have been coming to me that I think are going to help me in the long run."

At 38, Yeo became the youngest coach in the NHL when the Wild hired him in 2011. He amassed a 173-132-44 record and guided the Wild to their first playoff berth in five years. The team advanced to the postseason three straight years under Yeo, winning its first playoff series in a decade in 2014.

Still, when he couldn't avoid another midseason slump last season, he was replaced by interim coach John Torchetti.

Eight months later, Yeo said he's able to look back at his time with the Wild in a positive light.

"I would say once the initial sting wears off - and it took time for that to happen - there's just nothing but gratitude for me," Yeo said. "I love the city, I love the fans, I love the organization and the people I worked with. I loved the players. I look at what that time did for me, getting my foot in the door, coaching and then developing, and I really feel I'm at a different place now. I owe that to them, for sure."

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One drawback to Yeo's new gig in St. Louis was that he and his wife, Tanya, didn't want to pull their son Kyler out of school at Hill-Murray, where he is a senior and captain of the hockey team. So Tanya and Kyler remain in the east metro while Yeo works in St. Louis.

Yeo and the Blues will play at Xcel Energy Center three times this season: on Dec. 11, Jan. 26 and March 7. Yeo hasn't thought much about the emotions that will come with that road trip to St. Paul, but hopes his return is met with a warm welcome.

"I hope so," he said. "I don't go into the game thinking about that, but my time there meant a great deal to me. When you're in a place for five years, obviously you have an emotional attachment to it. There's no question about that."

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILD
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