MINNEAPOLIS – When Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter heard that Iowa Wild coach John Torchetti would be the team’s interim bench boss the rest of the season his reaction wasn’t one of excitement.
“I was thinking like ‘OK, we got the minor league guy come up and we’ll play hard for him,” Suter said.
What he didn’t know was he’d get an emotional guy who cared deeply about hockey. When Suter met Torchetti, he bought into his new coach right away.
“It’s hockey 100 percent of his time. He’s detailed and he’s animated because he’s very passionate about it,” Suter said. “He’s a really good coach. It’s been three games but he’s very detailed and a lot of positive energy.”
Since Torchetti took over for Mike Yeo, who was fired a week ago, the Wild have gone 3-0-0, outscoring their opponents 15-7. The wins have come against the three worst teams in the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oiler, but the Wild don’t believe these wins aren’t a mirage.
They see the fiery Torchetti as the type of coach who can help them get back into the playoff picture following a tough stretch that led to Yeo’s ouster. Going into Sunday's Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks, the WIld have 62 points, two back of the final Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s really nice when there’s a coach who brings the right type of energy and positivity and not to say that Mike didn’t have that but I think he does it really well,” said forward Erik Haula, who played for Torchetti in the minors. “It’s hard to explain, you just kind of have to be there to witness it and he does a good job with it.”
Since 1999-2000, Torchetti has mostly either been an NHL assistant coach or an AHL head coach, along with one-year stints head coaching stints with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats and CSKA Moscow.
As a head coach, he’s never made it past the first round of a postseason. Last season with the Iowa Wild, he went 23-49-4. This year, he’s 8-30-3.
He’s had some success at the NHL level, but mostly as an assistant coach, winning the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2003-04 he was the Florida Panthers’ interim coach, and posted a 10-12-4-1 record. In 2005-06 he coached 12 games with the Los Angeles Kings and garnered a 5-7-0 record.
Has he just been put in bad situations? Or are there deeper reasons why the 49-year-old Torchetti has never seemed to win as a head coach or never gotten a full-time NHL job?
“He’s been in the situation where he knows to show up and be a pro and hopefully try and create some solutions to what’s going on,” assistant coach Darby Hendrickson said. “It’s a hard time when you lose your head coach. There’s a lot of different emotions attached to that. John’s a pro and so far he’s doing a very good job.”
Players on the Wild, some who’ve had Torchetti in the minors and others who have never played for him, have bought in relatively quickly.
“I will say the last three games we’ve played with just a lot more confidence and a lot more energy and that’s been the biggest difference to me – the life, the excitement level on the bench, in the room throughout the game from behind the bench. I think we’ve responded really well to it,” forward Zach Parise said.
If the Wild can go on a run under Torchetti, it wouldn’t be the first time this season a team saw their luck change after an in-house promotion.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have seen an uptick in their numbers since Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston behind their bench. Sullivan was Pittsburgh’s AHL coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and his ascension to the top job, wasn’t initially seen as a needle-moving moment.
But center Sidney Crosby has rediscovered his form with Sullivan, scoring at a level he never produced under Johnston.
It’s not like the Wild have one underperforming player who needs to get going. Instead it’s a whole group that’s dropped off.
The team has fallen from a position when they were 17-7-6 on Dec. 17 to 23-22-10 right before Yeo’s firing.
Torchetti is taking a collective approach of not just focusing on one player, but trying to figure out the right buttons with the whole team.
“I love the game and I think you have to play this game with a lot of passion and you have to have a lot of fun, and play with detail and execute,” Torchetti said. “I look forward to coaching every day and seeing my players on the ice and then seeing your product work on the ice and that’s the best part about teaching, there’s no ceiling to it.”
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