by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
One Elk River resident is uniquely qualified to comment on the Minnesota Wild’s choice of a new head coach.
That would be Nate Prosser, who spent his first full season of pro hockey playing for Mike Yeo with the Houston Aero’s, the Wild’s top minor league team.
“I think it was a really good hire,” said Prosser, who’s back home for the summer and had just come home from a slow-pitch softball tournament when contacted Saturday evening.
“He is a real good players coach. The guys up there will love him. On our team, all the guys respected him and wanted to win for him.”
Yeo was named Friday, June 17, as the new Wild coach, succeeding Todd Richards, who was fired after two seasons.
In his first season as Aeros coach, he guided them to a 46-28-1-5 record in the regular season and to the Calder Cup finals, where they lost to Binghampton four games to two after winning series over Peoria 4-0, Milwaukee 4-3 and Hamilton 4-3. The Aeros did not even make the playoffs the previous year.
Yeo, at 37 the youngest head coach in the NHL, spent six previous years on the Pittsburgh Penguins staff when they became one of the league’s top teams, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Prosser made all-conference as a sophomore and junior for the Elks, then left during his senior year to join Sioux Falls of the USHL, where he played 2 1/2 years. He played four WCHA seasons with Colorado College and was signed by the Wild as a free agent (undrafted) in March of 2010 and spent a month with the team, appearing in their last three games. After development camp last summer, he was then assigned to the Aeros for the 2010-11 season.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound defenseman had an encouraging rookie season, with plus-12 rating along with eight goals and 19 assists in 73 games in the regular season. In 24 playoff games he was plus-two, with two goals and two assists.
Prosser gave Yeo considerable credit for that. Asked what impressed him about the coach, he said: “The way he communicates. You can talk to him at any time and he’ll give you feedback. He’ll to over videos and show you areas where you can improve.”
Yeo is an upbeat and engaging personality, Prosser found.
“He is the most personable coach I’ve had,” said Prosser. ‘On travel days he’ll sit and chat with you. He’s pretty upbeat. There’s not many days where he’ll get angry.”
Prosser added that the Aeros success stemmed from a skillfully structured system.
“He has a real good hockey mind about what kind of system should be applied.”
Prosser, who got married last summer to another former Elk athlete, Brittani Metcalfe, said he and his wife had a great time in Houston, especially being able to wear shorts all winter.
The team did well at at the gate, after they started winning, with crowds of 4,000 to 5,000 during season, and up to 9,000 to 10,000 for playoffs. They play at the Toyota Center where the Houston Rockets play.
“It was fun to be in the playoff run,” he said. “We were up two games to one,but lost the next three, so it was a bummer of a finish, but still fun.”
Prosser found pro hockey to be quite grueling and physical. He played 105 games counting preseason and playoffs, compared to about 35 in college.
“I’m pretty tired. I have a lot more respect for guys who win the Stanley Cup, how worn down their bodies must be.”
He chipped two teeth when hit by somebody’s stick during a tussle for the puck in the corner, and had some facial cuts — in the pro’s, they don’t wear the face-protecting cage like in college — and some bruises, but no injuries that sidelined him. “Thank the Lord for that,” he said.
Prosser will relax and rest at home until development camp July 11-17 at the Xcel Center. He will sign the same two-way contract as last year, meaning one salary level for the AHL and one for the NHL.
Needless to say, Prosser would love to play for Yeo again.