Photo by Minnesota Wild/Bruce Kluckhohn
When Dean Evason took over the Wild bench and locker room as the interim head coach after the firing of former coach Bruce Boudreau, the Wild were on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
Twelve games later and the Wild went on an 8-4 run to creep into the playoffs where they now have a chance at two very important things when it comes to success in the NHL. They have a chance to win the Stanley Cup and they have a 12.5 percent chance of garnering the top draft pick if they were to lose in the first round to the Vancouver Canucks.
Call it a “chip and a chair” in both battles.
And leading the way is Coach Evason. Many in the Wild fan base and certainly in the hockey industry were looking for the Wild to conduct a thorough search to find Boudreau’s replacement while Evason held court until it happened. But Wild GM Bill Guerin had a different plan in mind. After seeing the team’s success in those 12 games under Evason’s tutelage and then seeing how Evason conducted himself and communicated with players during the Covid shutdown, Guerin got to thinking that maybe he didn’t need to conduct a search at all and the best candidate was right there with him in the same building.
“All along I planned on a full search,” said Guerin. “I was up front and honest with Dean about that from the start.”
Then came what Guerin calls “the pause” and that was when he saw how valuable Evason was. He didn’t question his knowledge of the game or his bench skills. It was the way he interacted with players during the shutdown that raised his eyebrows.
“When the pause started I could see Dean’s communication with the players and how good it was,” said Guerin. “That was the type of guy we were looking for.”
Evason enjoyed a very good NHL career. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 1982 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals, the Winnipeg native went on to play 803 games five teams and amassed 139 goals, 233 assist and 1002 penalty minutes.
As a Kamloops Junior Oiler he set the league on fire as an 18 and 19-year-old, scoring 71 goals and 164 points in the WHL in 1982-83 and 49 goals and 137 points the following season in just 57 games. And that was also where he started his coaching career during the 1999-2000 season. He eventually climbed the coaching ladder and was named an assistant for the Washington Capitals in 1999-2000. It was the same year the Minnesota Wild franchise began its franchise in St. Paul. In 2018-19, Evason was named an assistant to the Wild staff and now three years later is the head coach.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity,” Evason said. “Is it a relief? I don’t know. It’s just extremely exciting to have the opportunity and I am excited to get going.”
Evason stepped back on the ice post-Covid pause on Monday, July 13, and said it felt great not only to be on the ice, but to be there as the new head coach of the Wild.
“Stepping on the ice felt great,” he said. “It was great to be back out there.”
Guerin said he made his decision about a month ago, but gave it time and talked to Wild owner Craig Leipold.
“The more I talked with others about it the more confident I was it was the right decision,” Guerin said. “This is something Dean has worked long and hard for and he’s earned it.”
Having been on the bench for the past three seasons will give Evason a head start as a new head coach. He knows the players well and the players respect him.
“I have always liked him,” said Wild emerging star Kevin Fiala. “He’s a great communicator and a great coach who knows the game. I am very happy he is with us.”
Fiala said Evason has been instrumental in his development. Fiala’s game seemed to thrive even more once Evason took the reigns.
“He’s been a huge part of my success,” he said. “Off the ice and on the ice. He trusted me and I trusted him. He has confidence in me and that helps me be who I am and play how I want. He gave me a lot of ice time and I appreciate that very much. I want to give back.”
Evason sees a team that has a good mix of youth and experience, and one that has potential, not just in this year’s playoffs, but next season and beyond.
“We need to slide right back in to where we left off,” he said. “We felt we gained some good ground and were playing well as a team. We were close. We were tight.”
Is Evason going to be the glue the Wild needs to come together, stay together and play together?
“The players are committed,” he said. “I put high expectations on myself to be the best coach I can and lead the group. Wins and losses are most important, but the way the guys have come together is what has been most exciting to our staff.”