EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Dean Evason is an early riser, awake at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and on the bike pedaling by 6:30.
He brings his laptop along for the ride, looking at work during his hourlong sweat session, which is his first of two on the day. Later, after a post-lunch snooze, Evason will get in another workout.
The 55-year-old likes yoga sculpt and even used a mat and heater to rig a studio setup at his place in Minnesota after the season paused.
But this go-go-go pace wasn’t an antidote for the free time that was born of the NHL’s four-month layoff because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is Evason’s lifestyle, an enthusiastic, on-the-move, passionate drive that mirrors the tone he has set with the Wild as he has settled in as the franchise’s newest head coach on the brink of the team’s qualifying-round series against Vancouver.
“He always has the right attitude,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “It’s almost like he wakes up and he’s excited for the day every day. His energy has rubbed off on all of us in a good way. That’s one thing that we notice is his energy behind the bench, he celebrates with us and he gets pumped up when we score, [make] good plays, things like that.
“It’s good to have almost that cheerleader behind you when you’re on that bench, especially going into Edmonton.”
There wasn’t one conversation in particular that signaled to General Manager Bill Guerin that Evason, who was initially hired as an assistant in 2018, was the right fit to take over permanently after being named an interim on Feb. 14 once the Wild dismissed Bruce Boudreau.
The two had plenty of talks, and what Guerin liked was the way Evason communicated and how he related to players from different backgrounds — an understanding that stems from his 800-plus games in the NHL as a player but also the time he spent coaching in juniors and the minors before becoming an assistant in the NHL.
“You have to have the empathy, the compassion for the guys, too,” Guerin said. “This is a hard life. I think everybody sees the glamour and the glitz and the paychecks and stuff like that. But this is a hard life. It’s competitive, and when you’re struggling, everybody knows it and he helps guys through that.”
After his interim tag was removed and he was awarded a two-year extension on July 13, the same day the Wild officially reconvened for training camp to prepare for its matchup with the Canucks that kicks off Sunday, Evason didn’t alter his approach to the job.
Sure, he’s evolved over his coaching career — taking bits and pieces from the coaches he’s worked under and played for along the way. He was influenced by the intensity of his junior coach Bill LaForge, the no-nonsense honesty Bob Gainey had when Evason played for Dallas in the mid-’90s and the detailed preparation Andy Murray displayed in international competition.
But Evason’s title changed. Not him.
“At the end of the day, you’ve gotta be who you are and you have to do what you do and what you believe in,” Evason said, “and hopefully that’s good enough to have success.”
What Evason has done so far with the Wild could certainly be categorized that way.
The team’s 8-4 response in the regular season to his promotion helped it get included in this 24-team postseason return, and the players executed on an aggressive attack the Wild hopes to rediscover in the playoffs.
“He likes to keep things up-tempo,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “I think with the practices we’ve had this camp, there’s not much standing around. You’re going, and that’s the way we have to play the game. He’s intense and holds guys accountable, but it’s not to the point where he’s degrading or putting you down.
“With holding you accountable, he’s doing it to teach you and make the team better. I think that’s one of his strengths is that he makes everyone feel as if they’re as important as the next guy, which is the way it should be.”
Still a dreamer
There isn’t any guesswork with Evason. Expectations are explained, and questions get answered.
“You don’t have to figure out what he’s thinking because he’s going to tell you and there’s just no games,” Guerin said. “If he has a concern, he’ll ask about it. If he has a problem, he’ll tell you about it. If he likes something, he’ll tap you on the back for it. Dean’s a very up-front guy.”
He’s also been clear about what he hopes to accomplish with the Wild, and he’s getting a chance to achieve it early in his tenure.
“I dreamed of lifting the Stanley Cup with my skates on, and now I dream of lifting a Stanley Cup with a suit on,” Evason said. “Your dreams change, and I think that’s good, but the goal is ultimately still the same.”