Noah Cates, a native of Stillwater, recalls thinking he thought his partner Kyler Yeo had “the coolest dad” when they were teens. If that surname was not a big enough give away, yes, he was talking about former Wilds coach Mike Yeo.
When the Wild was down during the summers, Yeo regularly met youth hockey matches, often to the fanfare of some of his son’s teammates.
“It was always cool when he came to the games,” Cates said with a smile. “It was fun memories in the summer to play with Kyler and all those guys.”
That relationship made a full circle at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, with Cates making his NHL debut for the Philadelphia Flyers, and Yeo behind the bench as the Flyers’ interim coach.
Cates, 23, signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers on Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his Minnesota Duluth team bowled out of the NCAA Tournament.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Cates said. “Of course disappointing that my four years at Duluth are over. It was a wonderful four years with all the memories and people up there that are so special to me. ”
While signing his entry-level contract did not necessarily ease the pain of bending out of the NCAA Tournament, Cates said it forced him to turn the page fairly quickly. He did not have time to nut. Not with his NHL debut on the horizon.
The fact that the milestone moment is coming at the Xcel Energy Center is all too fitting.
The building served as a backdrop for a memorable state tournament look when Cates was in high school, as well as a memorable NCAA championship when he was in college. On top of that, Cates remembers how he attended a ton of Wild games as a youth, noting that Zach Parise was his favorite player.
“Just always in this building with family and friends watching games,” said Cates, who played for Stillwater High School’s boys hockey team. “There were a lot of fun evenings in that crowd. Being on the ice now is very special. ”
To make the evening even more special for Cates, many of his colleagues in St. Paul rode for the match. It was a chance for him to say goodbye again after he so abruptly left after the loss at the weekend.
“It’s obviously very special that they find their way down,” Cates said. “Of course very excited about it.”
As for the game itself, while Cates knew he was going to be charged for his NHL debut, he was focused on not trying to do too much.
“Just play my game,” Cates said. “I think a big thing with a long career is to win the trust of teammates and coaches and to be a reliable guy from here.”
Meanwhile, the man behind the Flyers bench could not believe he was coaching his son’s former teammate.
“It’s weird,” Yeo said. “It makes me feel very old.”
When made aware of the fact that Cates once referred to him as “the coolest dad”, Yeo said, “Hopefully I’m the coolest coach right now.”