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The wit and wisdom of Ron Wilson
Leafs head coach returns to SJ on Tuesday
11/30/08 - By Mike Lee

Ron Wilson is having a blast. Well, at least when it comes to dealing with the Canadian media. The former Sharks head coach spent little time in the unemployment line after the Sharks cut him loose last summer, so some folks in San Jose may find it surprising to find out that Wilson may be enjoying himself these days. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a lot better than many people imagined, due in part to Wilson's contributions as their new head coach. As a result, the rabid Canadian pundits have cut him some slack. Well, at least for the time being.

Wilson returns to HP Pavilion on Tuesday night, when the Leafs make their only appearance on the West Coach this season.

The Leafs sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings as of the season's quarter-mark, only 4 points out of the last playoff spot. That alone has been a pleasant surprise for many in Toronto who have found it easy to cast a shadow over their team.

The Mats Sundin impasse has left the Leafs with nary a superstar to provide much hope, aside from the occasional Nik Antropov sighting. A youth movement rarely spells instant gratification, especially in the NHL, and a series of questionable personnel moves the past few years has those in Toronto wondering when the glory would return.

The powers that be in Toronto felt the first step in that path was to lure Wilson to Ontario. He may not be the guy to bring a Cup to Toronto, but he's certainly qualified to get the Leafs headed in the right direction. His work in San Jose speaks for itself.

The funny thing is, the former Team USA head coach was probably the last person anyone in Canada thought would be guiding the reigns in Toronto. Wilson's ego and disdain for the Canadian media are the two things that seemed to prevent that move from ever happening.

Yet here we are, at the beginning of December, and Wilson has one of the two biggest hockey franchises in Canada eating from his hand. As for the media, that prize fight has just begun. Wilson has always enjoyed the sparring, but it seems that in Toronto, he's like a kid in a candy store.

"If you have to do it, you may as well have some fun with it," Wilson told Iain ManIntyre of the Vancouver Sun earlier this month before the Leafs faced the Canucks. "I'm trying to get under a couple of guys' skin. There are some people trying to get under my skin, so I've done the Mongolian reverse on them. You turn it around and get under their skin."

For those that aren't quite sure of that Mongolian reverse reference, it has something to do with a torture tactic. Some of Wilson's references can be tortuous, but the points he tries to make are still the same.

When asked about the Canadian and American media, Wilson was matter of fact in his lunging response.

"You guys seem to think you're more important. You live in your world and I'm coaching a hockey team; (the job) doesn't change. I spent 10 minutes with the media in Toronto and 10 minutes with the media in San Jose.

"Every single day you ask the same questions. You know the amazing thing? You've never asked me once what we're doing in practice. 'What was that drill?' No one's ever asked that. It's always: 'What's Jason Blake going to do tomorrow? Where's Brian Burke having dinner tonight?' You don't really talk about the actual Xs and Os of the game. I find that kind of strange. So then I wonder, maybe you don't ask those questions because maybe you don't understand."

For this exchange he holstered his rapier wit, and that is something the Canadian media loses out on. Wilson can be an entertaining guy, but squaring off with him will deny the masses that form of entertainment.

No doubt he's there to do a job, but you can't fault the guy for wanting to keep things light. Professional sports is a high stakes game, and Wilson's inability to land the big prize in the NHL is that one thing that weighs him down. To some, it may make his sense of humor seem glib and evasive.

For anyone that has to deal with him on a day to day basis, they should recognize him for what he is and what he's trying to accomplish. The levity is just one way to make those tough times a little more bearable.

Brian Burke, his former college roommate at Providence College, is now his new boss, so if anything you know he'll have the pieces to work with in a year or two. Burke didn't take the General Manager's job in Toronto to sit back and bide his time. He'll work over the existing roster, and with Wilson, who knows what will happen.

Until then, Leafs fans should sit back and enjoy the side show that Wilson and the Canadian media put on. Who knows, he may make the playoffs along the way.


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