Minnesota Wild | Kyler Yeo on his own journey with Hill-Murray hockey team

Minnesota Wild | 	 				 			Kyler Yeo on his own journey with Hill-Murray hockey team

Sitting around the kitchen table on a warm night last summer, Mike and Tanya Yeo laid out the options for their 17-year-old son Kyler as he entered his senior year at Hill-Murray in Maplewood.

A tight-knit family, the Yeos had made five moves together as Mike chased his dream of becoming an NHL head coach, leading them to Minnesota in 2011. Now another move loomed.

Fired by the Wild in February, Mike landed a job with the St. Louis Blues that will make him the team’s head coach next season, and he was moving south.

Such is life for professional coaches in an industry with fleeting job security and immense pressures. But behind each move for Mike and hundreds of other coaches, are family decisions that weigh heavily.

After Mike and Tanya moved their two children, Kyler and older daughter Braeden, to two different elementary schools and two different middle schools, they felt like they owed Kyler the chance to finish high school in Minnesota. But other options existed, including junior hockey and a move to St. Louis.

Mom and dad wanted Kyler to make his own decision. They laid out the options.

Kyler’s answer came in seconds. He wanted to remain in Minnesota, finish high school at Hill-Murray, and make one last run at a state hockey championship with the Pioneers.

“If I’m being honest,” Kyler said, “I never really had to think about it.”

A few months later, Kyler is one of two captains on an undefeated Hill-Murray team that plays Eden Prairie at Ridder Arena at noon Thursday in the opening round of the Schwan Cup.


Earlier this month, Mike was in town for his first game in St. Paul since his firing, a Dec. 11 match-up between the Blues and Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

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But the night before, Mike was especially excited.

He watches all of Hill-Murray’s hockey games via electronic video from Pioneers coach Bill Lechner. But for the first time that Saturday night, Mike got to be at the rink to see his son wear the “C” on his Pioneers sweater, for a game against Mahtomedi.

He also experienced firsthand what Kyler has to endure at times as the son of a former Wild coach. As Kyler took the ice for a shift, the chant from the Mahtomedi student section grew louder.

“Let’s Go Wild! … Let’s Go Wild!”

Kyler continued his shift as if he didn’t hear. He always does; he knows it’s part of the game for him here.

“It’s always been something people could use against him whether I was there or not, whether things were going good or bad,” Mike said. “I think he’s handled it really well. But it’s got to be tough at times.”

When Mike was with the Wild, opponents told Kyler he only made certain teams because of who is dad is. Since Mike’s firing, the jabs are more about the Wild being better off without his father.

“If anything, it’s gotten a little bit worse,” Kyler admits. “But it’s just motivation.”

Often, Lechner hears the quips from behind the Pioneers’ bench. Occasionally, he asks Kyler if he’s OK.

“And he’ll look at me say, ‘Coach, it’s fine,’ ” Lechner said. “Deep down, is he boiling? Maybe. But he doesn’t lose his cool and he doesn’t jump into the boards swinging his fists. He’s handled it well.”

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It was difficult on the Yeos last year when Braeden went off to college in Colorado. But they figured at least Mike and Tanya had two more years at home with Kyler. That changed when Mike was fired in February.

They decided Tanya would stay with Kyler at their Woodbury home to allow him to graduate high school with his friends, finally able to start and finish at the same school.

“We hadn’t done that in the past where we lived apart,” Mike said.

It was a bit strange at first.

Family viewings of TV’s “The Walking Dead” have been replaced by virtual ones when the whole family Facetimes together and can chat about scenes during commercial breaks. And missing ping-pong matches against his dad, Kyler now brings his mom to the table.

“It’s difficult,” Mike said. “The transition has been great for me, hockey-wise. I love every minute of it. But being without the family is really tough. … The fact that Tanya is there makes everything seem as normal as possible. When you’re 17 years old, you’re pretty mature, but I think you often still need your family there, and we’ve tried to keep it as normal as possible.”

Mike interviewed this summer in Calgary, Ottawa and Anaheim, but the family is thrilled he landed in St. Louis, a short flight away.

They visit him when they can, and they watched him coach against the Wild earlier this month, their first game back at Xcel Energy Center since last season.

“It was different,” Kyler said. “It had a different feel. Even when they’re playing St. Louis, it’s a little tough for me not to cheer for the Wild a bit. Some of the Wild players I’ve been watching since my dad coached them in Houston.”

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Kyler grew up in hockey rinks and dreamed of following in his dad’s footsteps as a professional hockey player.

While his dad was an assistant coach with the Penguins, Kyler had free run of the locker room and still remembers playfully wrestling with Sidney Crosby, then just a budding star who worked closely with Mike before and after practices.

Kyler celebrated on the ice with the Penguins when they won the 2009 Stanley Cup, and he watched this summer as Crosby lifted the Cup once again.

“If I’m being honest, and I think my dad kind of knows this, but I still consider myself a Penguins fan just because I watched them growing up,” Kyler said. “Sidney Crosby is still my favorite player.”

A year ago, Kyler and Hill-Murray came within a goal of reaching the state tournament. Their dream of playing at Xcel Energy Center was spoiled in the Class 2A, Section 4 final when Stillwater’s Noah Cates scored a you-had-to-see-it spin-o-rama overtime goal that went viral.

“Every now and then I’ll still see the video somewhere and it gets a fire in your belly,” Kyler said.

Hoping for one last chance at the state tournament, Kyler returned to Hill-Murray rather than play junior hockey.

After living in Minnesota for six years, it’s hard for Kyler to imagine moving, even if the local team dismissed his dad.

“Minnesota is my home now,” Kyler said. “Whenever I’m older and have a wife and kids, this is where I want to live.”