For many, Father’s Day is a bittersweet day. Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was asked about his father, Larry, and his influence on his life. Here is what he said.
I was 24 when I lost my Dad.
His name was Larry Wilson. He played 17 years in the American Hockey League including 13 years playing for the Buffalo Bisons. During that time we lived in Fort Erie.
I’m the oldest in my family. My brother Brad is 13 months younger than me. My brother Randy is 13 months younger than him.
On game days, if we weren’t at school, we would mimic our dad’s routine. For a Sunday game, we would go to the rink in the morning. In those days, players ate eggs or steak. When we got home, we would all sit at the table and all eat the same thing. He would take a nap. We would take a nap. He would wake us up. We’d put our suits on, the four of us, with suits on, going to the rink.
I learned a ton from him. Just general life lessons. You watch and you learn by osmosis. His messages were simple: always listen to your coach. Respect your teacher.
He never, ever hit us. You’d think that he would have. Here was this tough hockey player and we were punks. We did a lot of dastardly deeds and our dad would just laugh it off. Our punishment was him throwing us out of the house and telling us to go play street hockey. When we were fighting, he would put us in a room and tell us to settle our differences amongst ourselves.
When I came to the Leafs in 1977, Roger Neilson didn’t have an official assistant coach. My dad coached in that era. The newspaper beat writer was your assistant coach and one of your best friends. Writers became sounding boards for coaches.
From when I was 13 to when I was 16, my dad didn’t have an official assistant coach. I was his assistant coach. I would watch the game from above and I would take all the faceoffs and chart the numbers. He would sit down at the kitchen table late at night, and he’d say ‘well, what did you see tonight?’ I’d give my opinion and we would talk hockey.
He coached in Providence and since I was a little older, he gave me more responsibilities. I remember the day he died as if it was yesterday.
It was the first time I ever took my daughter to a movie. I took her to see Star Wars and she peed all over me. She was about two and a half years old. We came home and I talked to Gerry McNamara of the Leafs about coming to training camp. My brother Brad was driving to Adirondack where my parents were getting set up and he called me with the news. My Dad was exercising and the doctors said it was a massive heart attack. He was only 49 years old. They told us he was probably dead before he hit the ground.
I’ve got every hockey card ever produced of my dad and my uncle, Johnny Wilson.
It’s in my blood, my DNA. I couldn’t be prouder of my hockey heritage. There are the Patricks and so many other more famous families, but I look at us as the blue collar hockey family.
I carry my dad’s hockey card in my breast pocket during games. He never got the chance to do all of the things he wanted to do in hockey. I want to represent him. I want to have a career he would be proud of. I think he would be proud, if he was here. My uncle tells me that every time I talk to him. He says, “I’m proud, but your dad, he would be so proud to see what you are doing.”