Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ron Wilson gives it to Howard Berger


Howard Berger gives it back (this is going to be fun):

“If there is one thing, among many, that I’ve learned in my first season around Ron Wilson, it’s that the coach of the Maple Leafs doesn’t react well to criticism. That’s not to suggest the other Leaf coaches I’ve had experience with in the past 20 years enjoyed being challenged, but Wilson takes it as a particular affront — mainly because of his heightened sensitivity to all things media.”

“Ron fancies himself as being cool and detached when it comes to reporters; he has often insisted that coverage of his team is “irrelevant”. But, he belies that notion in just about every one of his daily gatherings with the media horde that follows the Maple Leafs. In fact, he’s probably the most media-paranoid coach I’ve ever been associated with, and that’s saying a mouthful after my years around the big Irishmen, Pat Burns and Pat Quinn. Though Wilson is often cutting and sarcastic in his repartee with the Toronto media, he finally boiled over in his post-game scrum on Tuesday night, moments after the Leafs had come from behind to beat the New York Islanders in overtime.”

“I couldn’t quite figure the timing of it. Here the Leafs were — in Game 67 of another lost season, with no chance to make the playoffs — and Wilson is suddenly pulling out all the stops. Stick challenges are so rare in the NHL, and are almost always utilized as a last resort in a critical circumstance. I had difficulty in Ottawa envisioning such a circumstance, with the Leafs 11 points removed from a playoff spot and wedged, as per usual, in no-man’s land in the Eastern Conference standings.”

“Wilson’s move in Ottawa on Monday was justified, but I found the timing to be ridiculous. If this was the sort of tactic he planned on ultimately deploying, why didn’t he try and pull it off back in November or December, when the potential gain would have been more meaningful? That’s all I was questioning. Calling for a stick measurement isn’t really a ballsy move; in fact, it borders on a cheap ploy by a coach who’s team is usually in a desperate situation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Wouldn’t it have been more useful for Wilson to try such a maneuver, let’s say, on Nov. 15th in Vancouver, when his players were nobly battling the Canucks at the end of a tiring road swing? Or against Washington at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 6th, when the Capitals clung to a 2-1 lead for the entire third period? At least the season was still hanging in the balance back then. There was nothing to be gained from growing desperate in Ottawa on Monday.”

“Where Wilson’s media paranoia, and his aversion to any sort of criticism, got the better of him, was in his interpretation of my question. He chose to view it as a challenge to his integrity as a coach. I was simply asking about the odd timing. Now, I can understand why he took exception to my thought that he could have used the stick challenge earlier in the season. I think he determined it to be an accusation that he wasn’t trying as hard to win games back then, but that’s absurd. It never crossed my mind, and the concept of his integrity as a coach was not at all a part of my thought process until he raised it in his post-game harangue Tuesday night. On reflection, though, it was a rather insensitive remark after a tough loss to the Senators, and one I could have phrased differently. Wilson is a proud man and a very good coach; I’ve never questioned either of those qualities in a general sense. My challenge on Monday related only to the timing of his decision in that particular game.”

“Unfortunately, Wilson doesn’t have the mind-set to accept any sort of media challenge. He is so hyper-sensitive to being even mildly confronted that he often executes pre-emptive strikes, accusing reporters in scrums of harebrained notions about his club that have never — and would never — cross our minds. Just about every day, it’s “you guys” this, and “you guys” that, as Ronny pre-supposes some imaginary form of attack. I’ve lost count of the number of times my colleagues and I have looked at each other moments after a Wilson rant and said, “Where the hell did that come from?”

“Sadly, this flaw in his character shrouds one of the most thorough, clever and articulate hockey people I’ve ever run across. Hardly a day passes that I don’t learn something from Wilson and — privately — we’ve had several engaging chats, mostly about his days as a defenseman with the Maple Leafs in the late-1970s. When I felt we had gotten off to a rocky start in our relationship early in the season, I attempted to call a meeting with Ron. I asked him, personally, and I tried to arrange it through Leafs’ media relations director Pat Park. I had a tough few years with Quinn as well, but we ironed out our differences very quickly once we got together behind closed doors. It’s the way I always try to mend confrontation, but the request to Ron fell on deaf ears. Perhaps such an understanding or truce would defeat an edge Wilson feels he holds over reporters. In that regard, he’s only fooling himself.”