HELSINKI — With a bronze medal dangling around his neck, Team USA coach Ron Wilson joined a group of English-speaking reporters Tuesday.
Most of them he recognized from his days behind the bench with the Maple Leafs. It didn’t matter. He was asked if the back-and-forth with reporters he experienced at the world junior championship on a daily basis was fun.
“It was,” said Wilson. “I had one up on you. You couldn’t really jack me in the back with the way were playing. We played very well in this tournament.”
Ahh, Ron Wilson. Interesting and compelling. Arrogant to some. He was everything he was in Toronto, where you either loved him or hated him.
And he may now have re-entered the NHL’s free-agent coaching market after Team USA beat Sweden for bronze. But he’s not counting on the NHL calling.
“I was very relaxed, so I think I have the coaching bug back,” said Wilson, who coached the Maple Leafs from 2008 to 2012.
“To coach any more, I really wasn’t planning on it. I was happy to get my feet wet the way I did and give something back to USA Hockey, which I certainly think I did, and accomplish a goal which is to try to win a medal in a major tournament.”
So what’s next for him?
“Golf. I’m serious,” he said. “I’m not expecting anything from anybody else. I didn’t come here with that in mind. I came here to take three weeks off from golf and try to accomplish as much as we did.”
But if an NHL team called?
“I would entertain that, for sure,” said Wilson. “But as far as I’m thinking, but I’m not hoping for anything. I just wanted to get something done in this tournament.”
Wilson’s Team USA clobbered Sweden 8-3 in the consolation game, the ninth medal for the Americans in the history of the tournament.
“I learned I could still coach,” said Wilson. “Sometimes I had my doubts there after my Toronto experience. I was getting criticized from all sides. You learn to trust yourself. That’s what I did, I trusted myself and we were rewarded.”
The players loved him, responding to his experience of more that 1,400 games coached in the NHL.
“He was great,” said American star Auston Matthews. “Everybody really liked him. He was really laid back. He was really honest with everybody. He doesn’t yell a lot. It was different from what most people kind of expected. It was really nice to have him as a coach.”
Wilson was always ready for a chat after every game and every practice. Just like his time in Toronto, he filled reporter’s notebooks with quotes and comments.
And just like the end of his time in Toronto, his comments didn’t go over very well, especially when he criticized Canada for taking too many penalties in its quarter-final loss to Finland, or criticized TSN for putting too much pressure on the Canadians.
Nothing seemed to faze him.
He was asked if he’d like to coach this tournament again next year when the Americans will be in the same bracket as Canada, starting in Toronto.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t want to do this again, I don’t think. I don’t see myself coming back. I wanted to do it once. I wanted to see what it was like to coach at this level, and I did. We won a bronze. It’s not gold, but it’s still something.”