Leafs' coach just 'Joe Blow' at Games

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Ron Wilson chats during an interview with QMI Agency in Vancouver on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — On the morning of Evan Lysacek’s gold-medal skate, Ron Wilson approached him in the Athlete’s Village, shook his hand and congratulated him on a terrific short program

“I knew who he was,” said Wilson, the hockey coach. “I don’t think he had a clue who I was. It’s not like I go around saying ‘Hi, I’m Ron Wilson. I’m the men’s hockey coach, hopefully the next Herb Brooks or something.’

“To most people in the Village, I’m just Joe Blow walking around here. I’m a middle aged man, even older than that. Nobody pays much attention to me.”

Wilson is sitting in the outdoor plaza of the Village, wearing sunglasses and no jacket on another brilliant Vancouver morning, with the mountains behind him, talking of his second Olympic coaching experience.

The first one didn’t end well, with broken hearts and broken furniture. The second one has begun wonderfully. “This,” he said, looking around, “is phenomenal.

The sight of all this is incredible. We just look around and see how beautiful this whole thing is. We’ve had incredible weather. We can walk everywhere here. In Nagano, you couldn’t really walk anywhere. You were isolated, out of town. You felt like you were in a bit of a prison camp, to be honest with you.

“The security here is tight but everyone is friendly. The apartments we have are beautiful. It’s just a different atmosphere for me. They have entertainment for the athletes, which they didn’t have in Nagano. You like experiencing different cultures, but there’s something magical about Vancouver. You walk downtown and the crowds are unbelievable.”

Inside the Athlete’s Village, Wilson is known to the hockey players and almost no one else. Considering the fishbowl existence he lives in in Toronto, he doesn’t mind the change. Outside the village, folks would surely recognize him.

“I thought if I went out for a beer or I went out for dinner, I’d be getting harassed by people,” said Wilson. “Even though this is the Olympics, there are tons of Leaf fans here. They’re everywhere. I may be coaching the supposed enemy (Team USA), but around Vancouver people have been really friendly and very polite.”

Even inside the Village, Wilson says, there is a separation of sorts between hockey and the rest of the Games. There are players on almost every team that he has coached at one time or another. The hockey family, it seems, knows no bounds.

“The cool thing for me are all these connections,” said Wilson. “There’s this Swiss player, (Ivo) Ruthemann, who is married to my daughter’s best friend when we were living in Davos. Makes for a pretty small world. Yesterday, I’m at this reception for the men’s and women’s teams and I find out that the Bellamy girl on the U.S. team (Kacey), I went to high school with her aunt and her dad went to school with my wife’s brother. That’s what makes this the fun it is.

“And I ran into Peter Stastny and he told me how proud of his son (Paul) he is. He’s openly rooting for Team USA even though he’s getting a lot of flak from political people in Slovakia over it.”

There is a side of the sometimes caustic Wilson that seems almost humbled by his Olympic inclusion. This is a different stage: But he is enjoying his small part of it.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to be here,” said Wilson, who coached three seasons in Vancouver. “With all these people around everywhere, it’s insane. People are telling me there’s never been crowds of people like at an Olympics, summer or winter. The atmosphere is incredible. It’s electric.

“I told my team — Sunday will be the most electric atmosphere of their lives. It will be a game (against Canada) they will never forget. And who knows, in few days we might have do it again.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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