Hamilton Bulldogs general manager Julien BriseBois announced on Monday night that Ron Wilson has been named the interim head coach of the hockey club. Wilson replaces Don Lever, who has been named as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens.
Lever becomes the third AHL head coach to be promoted to the NHL during the 2008-09 season, joining Binghamton’s Cory Clouston (head coach, Ottawa) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dan Bylsma (head coach, Pittsburgh).
Wilson becomes the seventh head coach in Hamilton Bulldogs history. He is in his sixth season with Hamilton after joining the club as an assistant coach for the 2003-04 season. The native of Toronto won the 2007 Calder Cup with the Bulldogs.
Prior to joining Hamilton, Wilson served as an assistant coach for four seasons (1996-2000) with the Springfield Falcons and two seasons (2000-02) with the Saint John Flames, winning the 2001 Calder Cup with the Flames. He also served as a head coach with the Flames during the 2002-03 season, leading the club to a record of 22-22-4 after taking over for Jim Playfair.
Wilson played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League with the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens, registering 326 points (110 goals, 216 assists) and 415 penalty minutes in 832 games. He also spent time playing in the AHL, winning a Calder Cup with Nova Scotia in 1977.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with Ron Wilson for the past few seasons and have been very impressed by his work ethic and knowledge of the game and its players”, said BriseBois. “Ron has spent 13 seasons in the AHL as an assistant coach and has captured two Calder Cup championships during that time, and in addition to his experience, I believe that his ability to teach players how to become better both as individuals and as members of a team makes him the right choice to succeed Don Lever.”
Lever was in his fourth year as head coach of the Bulldogs. He accumulated a record of 153-127-8-17 with Hamilton and captured the Calder Cup with the team in 2007. Lever became Hamilton’s longest-serving head coach on Feb. 2, 2008, when he coached his 206th game to surpass Claude Julien.
Before joining the Bulldogs, Lever was an assistant coach in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues for two seasons (2002-04). He also spent 12 seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, beginning his coaching career as a Sabres assistant coach in 1987-1988. He then served as head coach of the AHL’s Rochester Americans from 1990-1992, before returning to Buffalo as an assistant coach for the next 10 seasons (1992-2002). In his first season with Rochester as head coach, Lever earned the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as AHL Coach of the Year.
Lever also played in 1,030 NHL games accumulating 680 points (313 goals, 367 assists) along with 593 penalty minutes.
"I am so happy that Don is finally getting his opportunity back in the NHL", said Hamilton Bulldogs owner and governor Michael Andlauer. "His accomplishments here in Hamilton are worthy of this move. Not only did he and Ron help guide the Bulldogs to their first Calder Cup, but this season, he has lead the team in becoming a contender despite the enormous amount of injuries and many call-ups. His familiarity with the young Canadiens who played and won for him not so long ago should be a great asset to Montreal."
Andlauer added, "I am pleased that Ron will be leading us the rest of the way as our head coach. His leadership and attention to detail combined with the familiarity with our players will make the transition an easy one for us as we strive to go for our second championship."
Lever joins a Montreal Canadiens team that features nine players that played for the South Porcupine, Ont., native during his four years with Hamilton. Matt D’Agostini, Jaroslav Halak, Andrei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O’Byrne, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price, and Greg Stewart have all been coached for at least one game by Lever during their time with the Bulldogs.