By: Dan Shulman
As the United States World Junior Team took the ice for practice, much of the attention was focused on the talented stars donning the red, white and blue. Players like Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sonny Milano all participated for the Stars & Stripes.
However, more attention should be paid to the man standing behind the bench; Rhode Island native Ron Wilson. With the team practicing in Boston, just an hour north of where Wilson resides, the return to New England has been enjoyable.
“It’s great being back locally,” said Wilson. “All my relatives and my brothers still live here.”
With the practices being held this week at Agganis Arena, the whole experience is even more special for Wilson.
“This is kind of new. I’ve been to BU’s rink before but I never skated here,” said Wilson. “I played at Walter Brown. BU always has a special place in my heart, I can say that.”
Wilson is coaching the junior team for the first time, but at the limber age of 60, there aren’t many more firsts for a coach of his caliber.
Ron Wilson played his college hockey at Providence College, and as a defenseman, amassed an NCAA record of 250 points, a record that still stands almost 40 years later.
“I’m holding onto it,” said Wilson with a laugh. “The way [Jake Walman] in Providence is playing, I was getting a little nervous.”
Following a successful NHL career, Wilson turned to coaching. In over 1400 NHL games, Wilson collected 648 wins, putting him eighth all-time among NHL coaches. With his years of NHL experience, Wilson is a valuable asset for the U.S. World Junior Team.
“As an NHL coach, you can’t be stuck in concrete when you come and coach [juniors],” said Wilson. “You’ve got to be flexible and that’s what I plan on being.”
“I’m going to talk to our team about being a puck possession team, and I’ll just go from there. I’ve got to see what the other teams are playing like and then I’ll be flexible. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Despite making his junior hockey coaching debut, Ron Wilson has coached for USA Hockey before. In 2010, he led the United States to a silver medal in the Vancouver Olympics.
Regardless of whether Wilson is at the helm of an NHL team, or Team USA, the coach approaches every situation exactly the same way.
“I don’t think there’s any difference [in the international game],” said Wilson. “I’m preparing for this team and these games like I normally would. That’s what my preparation is all about; to prepare the team to win. We’ve got to play a high speed game.”
With all these hefty accomplishments, Wilson decided to coach at the junior level for an entirely different purpose than to display his versatility.
“I wanted to give something back,” said Wilson. “I asked Jimmy Johansson if I could be given that opportunity and he said yes. So I’m just trying to repay USA Hockey with the best effort I can.”