2016 World Juniors: Back In The Saddle

Ron Wilson Relishes Opportunity To Coach A New Generation Of Players

When you’ve been in hockey for as long as Ron Wilson has, you can confidently say that you’ve seen it all. Wilson does say it, and he has seen it all to the point where events on the ice trigger flashbacks from past games and tournaments.

Even when they’re sort of unusual.

In Team USA’s preliminary round game against Switzerland at the World Junior Championship in Helsinki, a tournament in which Wilson made his coaching comeback after a four-year absence from the game, he saw his team score six unanswered goals in the first period. Just a day earlier, Switzerland had pushed Canada to a shootout.

“I was nervous about the game, but the team figured it out in the first period and it was wonderful to watch,” Wilson said. “It reminded me of the Vancouver Olympics’ semifinal; we had a 6-0 lead against Finland in the first period. They blew up. We just watched it.”

Unfortunately for Wilson and Team USA, he also had to relive the disappointment of losing a playoff game, the semifinal against Russia. But all in all, Wilson enjoyed the experience of coaching the Under-20 team, which was a first for the man who joins Lou Vairo as the only U.S. coaches to lead a team at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympics.

“Right now they’re all fresh and raw, and willing to learn. I’ve really enjoyed that. They want to improve and they do anything they can to help the team at the moment, which makes things very easy for me,” said Wilson, who stepped behind the bench for the first time after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012.

“I don’t think anything’s changed [during the four years I've been out of coaching]. Well, maybe a few things have changed, but the kids are the same. They have the youthful enthusiasm and I’ve enjoyed coaching them. These guys have made it fun for me again.”

And the feeling was mutual. The players appreciated Wilson’s experience, and were perhaps a little surprised—at least to some members of the media—by how he kept things light during the tournament with his jokes and witty remarks.

After suffering another disappointing loss at the hands of the Russians, the Americans rallied to take home the bronze medal with an 8-3 victory over Sweden. It marked the ninth medal the U.S. has won at the World Juniors.After suffering another disappointing loss at the hands of the Russians, the Americans rallied to take home the bronze medal with an 8-3 victory over Sweden. It marked the ninth medal the U.S. has won at the World Juniors.

“I usually try to be myself as much as possible when I meet the team, and this team has allowed me to be myself. They made me feel comfortable right off the bat,” the 60-year-old coach said with a chuckle. “I was expecting a team that’s more rah-rah, but these guys were as quiet as mice. That was the biggest surprise to me.”

Time waits for no man, though, and Wilson had a daily reminder sitting right in front of him in the U.S. locker room. His name was Matthew Tkachuk, whose father, Keith, was on Wilson’s 1996 Team USA that won the World Cup of Hockey.

“Most of these kids were born after 1996 so they can’t remember the World Cup. I did remind them a few times,” Wilson said.

While he tried to be himself, Wilson also had to be aware of how the 21st century players think, and that may have meant biting his tongue once or twice.

“Today’s athletes want to know every little detail whereas the older guys didn’t want as much information. That’s what I’ve learned about this generation of athletes,” he said. “Anyone who’s sensitive I have to be careful with. I have to be careful because these guys are young and they’re all going to take what I say to heart.

“The tournament’s only two weeks long, but you have to watch what you say because you could destroy a guy’s life. I want to help them get to their next goal, which is to play pro.”

Returning home with a bronze medal probably doesn’t hurt their chances.

Issue: 
2016-02

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