MONTREAL – The Hamilton Bulldogs are used to adapting on the fly; they haven’t had much of a choice this season due to injuries and call-ups. For the team, though, the latest change is just another day at the rink.
Like so many of his protégés before him, Don Lever has graduated from Hamilton to Montreal, joining Bob Gainey behind the bench as an assistant coach. His new role has elevated Ron Wilson from assistant to interim head coach in Hamilton.
The transition for the players will likely be as minimal as the differences in the names of the two men. A staple behind the Bulldogs bench for the last six seasons, Wilson has spent the last four alongside Lever.
“We worked a lot together. Don gave me lots of responsibility and I had a lot of say in what we did,” said Wilson.
He won’t be alone behind the bench; former Hab Sergio Momesso joins the fray as interim assistant coach. Momesso is no stranger to the kids he’ll be coaching. The 13-year NHL veteran had been working as a consultant with the team.
“He’s been here for a while, working with the young kids, helping them adjust to life as a pro,” explained Wilson. “I know and trust him and have a lot of confidence in him, so it was an easy choice.”
A former NHLer himself who suited up for the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues and even the Canadiens, Wilson didn’t waste any time making the jump to the coaching ranks after closing out his professional career in 1995-96. The following season, the Toronto native swapped his stick for a whistle as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons.
“As you get older as a player, the thought of potentially coaching is on your mind,” admitted Wilson. “When I was playing, I bounced around between the NHL and the minors. To stick in the NHL as a third or fourth line guy, you have to pay attention to detail, to the coaches and the system.
“You grow and learn off each coach. Eventually, you think to yourself that maybe you’ll give coaching a try when you’re done playing.”
He’s worked with five different head coaches in his time behind various AHL benches but through it all, consistency has been key to Wilson’s career.
“I don’t think my style has really changed. I say what I feel and let guys know where they stand. I’d say I’m demanding but fair and easy-going at the same time. I’m a stickler for details so if there’s something that needs to be corrected, I’ll let the guys know as soon as I can so we can fix it,” he said.
As he takes on the status of “Top Dog”, the seventh head coach in Bulldogs franchise history knows there’s still room for his pups to improve – most notably in consistency as well as special teams – but overall, likes the strong core of his club.
“We’ve got a good group, a good mix of veterans and young guys. They get along well and have stuck together,” he said. “There was one point where we lost both of our goalies and we could have fallen apart. Instead, guys have stepped up and we’re competing.”
A welcome constant on a carousel of change that seemingly has yet to stop.Heather Engel is a writer for canadiens.com
Read also:Don Lever joins Habs' coaching staff Gainey takes over as head coach