Coyotes’ equipment guru Wilson still going strong after 25 years
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Former Coyotes goalie Mikael Tellqvist came dressed as Stan Wilson for Halloween one year. The costume was a huge hit at the team’s party.
"He had the Coyotes T-shirt on, the Gatorade towel over his shoulder, a moustache, the Coyotes ball cap exactly the same way on his head, the little notepad in his back pocket, the Coyotes colored shoes, and he even had the Wrangler jeans," Shane Doan said. "Stan always has those Wranglers on — him and Brett Favre."
The costume was clearly intended to poke fun at Wilson; the Coyotes head equipment manager. Nobody who spends any time in a professional locker room can escape some form of ribbing, but the costume was also a sign of the supreme respect the players have for Wilson. That respect is a reflection of the work Wilson does and the man he is, Doan said.
"He’s as disarming a person as you’ll meet and yet he has unbelievable principles and character," Doan said. "He’s my best friend. I have always wanted to be like him because of his values as a great husband and a great dad. It’s important to be around people you admire."
Wilson is closing out his 25th year with the franchise, making him the longest tenured member of the organization, ahead of Doan and vice president of communications, Rich Nairn. To honor that milestone, FOX Sports Arizona had originally planned a video segment to go along with this story. But those who know Wilson knew he would never get in front of a camera.
"We do a behind-the-scenes job, and that’s where we prefer to be," Wilson said in a reluctant interview. "I think that’s how most guys in this position feel. It’s about the players; it’s about the game. It’s really not about us."
Wilson got his start as an equipment manager with his hometown Junior B Melfort TM’s in Saskatchewan before moving on to the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, where he won a Memorial Cup with former Jet Dave Manson.
"He did everything for us," Manson said. "Not just the equipment stuff but the medical stuff, and the thing about Stan is that he never complained."
Manson and Wilson share an affinity for the rodeo, so their families became close and still spend time together.
"Stan is a country boy and his wife, Shelly, is a country girl, so they’re at home around the ranch and on horseback, and they’re passionate about that rodeo scene," Manson said. "Those are the settings where I find that Stan is the most relaxed."
In 1990, the Winnipeg Jets had an opening for an equipment manager. Craig Heisinger, then the Jets’ head equipment manager, remembered Wilson expressing interest in the NHL during an earlier conversation.
"He was the first guy who came to mind," said Heisinger, who met Wilson while Heisinger was the equipment manager for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. "We were the same age and the staffs were tiny back then — maybe three guys tops — so it was really important that you could count on each other."
"There’s times when you don’t mesh with people, but that clearly wasn’t the case with Stan. We worked well together. I think a lot of it had to do with the routes we traveled from Saskatchewan — I was from Winnipeg; he was from Melfort. Our career paths were similar, so we saw the game in a similar way."
In his quarter century with the franchise, Wilson has taken many players under his wing, including Doan, who can often be seen shuffling into Wilson’s office with his lunch plate after practices so the two can chat about horses or their families.
"We’re a couple of farmers," Wilson said, laughing. "That’s probably the basis of our friendship."
It’s hard to find any commonality between Wilson and the other player with whom he forged his strongest relationship: former Coyote and Jet Keith Tkachuk. Tkachuk is a stubborn, vocal product of the Boston suburb of Melrose — a guy who dresses to the nines. Wilson is quiet, unassuming and modest.
"He must have bought about 30 pairs of Wranglers back in 1992 when they were still making them," Tkachuk said. "He loves to wear those tight Wranglers, and he loves his country music."
Tkachuk admits the two had little in common when Tkachuk first arrived in Winnipeg in 1991, "but we just hit it off because I was this kid coming in, and he always looked out for me.
"I would always get to the rink early, right about the time Stan got there in the morning, so we spent a lot of time together, having coffee and solving all the team’s problems in our minds."
Most players have their idiosyncrasies when it comes to their equipment or skates. Whether it impacts their performance or not, it does in their mind, so Wilson never questions or ridicules a player’s preferences.
"We always believe we’re here to eliminate excuses and to help them to be the best they can be," he said. "I live by treating people the way I want to be treated. Everybody deserves respect, and everybody has worked hard to get here, so they deserve respect. They generally will respect you back if you do that. It’s pretty simple to me."
Wilson keeps a white board in his office that is covered with all sorts of information and to-do lists. He also keeps the aforementioned notepad with him so he can jot down thoughts or requests, although Doan recently upgraded it by buying him a leather-bound Day-Timer with Wilson’s name on it.
"Stan had heard from my time in Chicago that I was pretty particular," former Coyote Jeremy Roenick said. "Guys like their equipment a certain way, but nobody is quite like me. I like my skates sharpened a certain way. I’m particular about the radius and the angles. Some guys couldn’t get it. The guy in L.A. was terrible and ended up getting fired at the end of the year, but Stan was meticulous, and he would be in there until he got it right and he never questioned it."
Wilson also learned to roll with the players’ less-than-wise choices.
"Keith and I liked to use the same pants for a long time, so whenever I got new pants I would cut up the girdle and take the ass pads out and a lot of my thigh pads," Roenick said. "I probably took away 40 percent of the padding because I didn’t like bulky stuff. Stan would just roll his eyes. Hear no evil, see no evil."
Wilson’s meticulousness is one of his most mentioned attributes, but the hours spent were what boggled Tkachuk’s mind and what ultimately led him to start a trend that Doan emulated of taking Wilson out to dinner and thanking him with other gifts.
"These guys don’t get paid nearly as much as they probably should for the time they put in at the rink and all they put up with," Tkachuk said. "Every time we went to a new city, they had to pack and then unpack while we went to the hotel and went to sleep. It’s amazing that he’s done it for 25 years!"
Wilson’s lengthy tenure means he has trained a lot of staff, some of whom have moved on to head equipment jobs in the NHL, like Minnesota’s Tony DaCosta and Florida’s Chris Scoppetto. Perhaps Wilson’s most cherished experience, however, has been the ability to work with his son, Denver, who grew up in the Jets and Coyotes locker rooms and served a stint as an equipment manager for the L.A. Kings before returning to the Valley.
"It’s cool to be able to spend time with your kids, and he was so young when it started that he didn’t know anything different," Wilson said. "In this job, you’re busy so you do miss some things your kids are doing, so that’s maybe one of my regrets if you have any. The kids are doing something at school or they’ve got a family thing and you’re working. If you’re going to do this job you’re dedicated to this time and it’s demanding, so to have him around was awesome."
When the Kings defeated the Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference Final, Denver admitted to having mixed emotions.
"When we won Game 5 to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, I didn’t know whether to be happy because it was the opportunity of a lifetime or to cry because I wanted to see my dad go far.
"He gave me this chance, so it was tough, but he gave me a big hug afterward and told me to enjoy, because not too many people get that opportunity."
Wilson, 52, hasn’t had the chance to work the Stanley Cup Finals, but he has won a pair of gold medals with Team Canada at the 2003 and 2007 IIHF World Championships. With no plans to retire any time soon, he may get another crack at the Cup down the road if the Coyotes rebuild goes according to plan — and if Doan allows it.
Doan will enter the final year of his contract next season, and he’ll be 39 in October. He knows his NHL days are numbered, as are the daily powwows with Wilson at the arena.
"That won’t be a problem," Doan said with a grin. "When I leave, he’s coming with me."