Wilson eases into head coaching role in Hamilton

by Garry McKay || AHL On The Beat Archive

wilson-ron_200.jpgWhen the phone rang at Ron Wilson’s home last Monday it was Hamilton Bulldogs general manager Julien BriseBois with a somber message.

"We’re making a coaching change," BriseBois told him.

Wilson said he was stunned.

"I thought I was getting fired," he said. "It caught me completely off guard because I didn’t see that (Guy Carbonneau getting fired) coming."

Of course, Wilson found out quickly that it wasn’t he and Bulldogs head coach Don Lever who were being gassed. In fact, they were being promoted by the Montreal Canadiens who were trying to shake the Habs out of the doldrums by relieving Carbonneau of his job.

Lever was promoted to assistant coach of the Canadiens by Montreal general manager Bob Gainey who is taking over the head coach’s reins himself.

The call from BriseBois, it turned out, was to tell Wilson that he was moving up to become the Bulldogs interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The Canadiens, at Wilson’s urging, are bringing in Sergio Momesso to be the Dogs new assistant coach.

Wilson, who is in his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Dogs, has had head coaching experience with the Saint John Flames.
He expects the change behind the Bulldogs bench to be seamless.

"We’ve been playing pretty well so I’m not going to make any significant changes at all," said Wilson who will move from changing the defense to the traditional head coach’s roll of switching the forwards during games. "I told the players that some players may end up getting more ice time. Coaches have certain players that they like more than others and I’ll probably do the same. I’ll probably fall in love with a couple of guys more than others. It’s more the way they play that will dictate how much they play."

In the overall scheme of things Wilson isn’t likely to want to change much since most of what the Bulldogs do now was developed by Lever and Wilson together.

"Don gave me the reins to do basically whatever I wanted so most of what we did was a team effort," said Wilson. "He gave me more responsibility than most assistant coaches would have so it’s been good in that sense.

"I don’t see there being a big adjustment between me and Don."

Bulldogs president Glenn Stanford is happy that the Canadiens made Wilson their choice to replace Lever, especially now with crucial late season games and the playoffs looming.

"It was the best situation we could have hoped for and gives us a seamless transition," said Stanford. "Ron has been around here for a number of years and worked very closely with Don. So obviously from our perspective we support Montreal’s decision. We think it was a good one."

Wilson said BriseBois asked him who he wanted as an assistant coach and he felt Momesso was an obvious choice. The Canadiens have Momesso working on a contract this season evaluating their younger players in Hamilton and he’s been here a number of times.

"I’m comfortable with Sergio. I know him, I played together with him for a couple years and he’s been around the game for a long time," said Wilson. "He also knows the players. He’s been down here quite a few times working with the younger guys. I know he’ll do a good job.

"I asked him and he jumped at it. I know he’d like to get back into coaching. Hockey’s in his blood."

Garry McKay covers the Hamilton Bulldogs for the Hamilton Spectator. This story originally ran on March 11, 2009.