In response to their disappointing season, the Houston Aeros front office cleaned house, relieving head coach Kevin Constantine and his staff of their coaching duties.
The new head coach was named last month, and to those of you who have been following the team since its reincarnation in 1994, the new coach is probably familiar.
Mike Yeo takes over for Constantine this season, and for Yeo, it's a bit of a homecoming.
Yeo's spent the past several years as an assistant coach for one of the NHL's premier teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins. But before that, before joining the coaching ranks, Yeo skated for the Aeros, joining the team in 1994 and sticking around through the 1999 season, where, as team captain, he helped to lead the Aeros to the IHL's Turner Cup championship.
Yeo wasn't necessarily looking to become a head coach, when the Houston job came open, he just couldn't resist.
"That's a big part of why I'm here," he told Hair Balls this week. "It's not like I was sitting in Pittsburgh, trying to pay attention to the internet and looking to see what job offerings and openings were out there. I was in a very good spot in Pittsburgh, and loved what I was doing there. And when I saw that this job was opening, for a number of reasons, one my history here and all of the great memories that I have here, and two, the relationship with the people in Minnesota and the people that I'll be working with, it felt like a really good fit."
The Aeros parent club, the Minnesota Wild, saw Yeo as a good fit for the job because while with Pittsburgh, he worked with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher who was formerly the assistant GM in Pittsburgh, and he also dealt with Wild coach Todd Richards, who was formerly the coach of the Penguins minor league club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
"He worked with both of them, and...I've known Mike since his days at Wilkes-Barre," Aeros GM Jim Mill said yesterday. "What we're looking for is he's got to be the right fit for the organization, and the right fit for Mike to believe in what Chuck and I and Todd believe in, and obviously what Mike believes in."
Yeo promises that the Aeros are going to play an exciting, aggressive style of hockey that is similar to not only what Yeo's club, the Penguins, played, but also with what the Minnesota Wild play. This will make for what Yeo believes to be fun hockey, but it will help the players make the transition from playing in Houston to playing with Minnesota when they're promoted.
"The style, to put it simply, is we want to be aggressive. We want to be very aggressive defensively. We want to be very strong and difficult to defend against. Part of that is how you defend and how you go on teams and be aggressive on your toes. And the way you fore check and pressure the puck. And part of that is we want to make sure we're forcing teams to play on their heels."
The Aeros are still in the process of finalizing their roster, so Yeo still isn't totally familiar with his roster. But he'll be with the rest of the Aeros and Wild management in Minnesota next week as the Wild holds its summer prospect camp, so he'll get a chance to start meeting some of his new players.
"The one thing that I do like is I keep hearing the word character when people are referring to different players on our team," he said. "And I'm a big believer that to be successful in anything you do it's going to take a lot of character, so I'm glad that we have that."
Yeo's understandably excited, and he's awaiting the start of the season. He's got great memories of his time in Houston, and he wants the fans to experience now what he got to experience over a decade ago.
"I'm here because of those memories, the people, the fans, the way that I was treated here. So I can't wait to renew those acquaintances and see some of the familiar faces, and a lot of the new ones that the fan base has been building along the way. I can assure you of one thing, the people who come out and watch our team play will not be disappointed. They won't be disappointed with the effort and the style of play."
Welcome back to Houston, Mike. And count me among those eagerly awaiting the return of hockey season.