Sharks’ Doug Wilson reflects on career before Hall of Fame induction
As he prepares to stand on stage at Meridian Hall in Toronto on Monday night to deliver his Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech, Doug Wilson will no doubt have spent time thinking about his journey and everyone who influenced his life and career.
Wilson will have thought about the people who helped shape him as a person and player — his father, Douglas, his older brother, Murray, his junior hockey coach Brian Kilrea, and his earliest Chicago Blackhawks teammates like Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and Keith Magnuson.
"There are some guys that are very close and near and dear to me that unfortunately aren't with us and may not be here physically, but in spirit," Wilson said of his dad, and Mikita, Esposito and Magnuson.
But Wilson will also have reflected on how his family — his four children and numerous grandchildren, and especially his wife Kathy — impacted his life on and off the ice.
"There is no chance my dad's career could have happened the way it did without my mom," said Doug Wilson Jr. "My dad always tells us that the year he won the Norris Trophy was the year that he met and married my mom, and that's kind of when his career took off."
It was fitting then, that when Wilson got the call from Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald on June 24, 2020, telling him he had been elected in his 24th year of eligibility, he put Kathy on the line so they could share in the news together.
The Wilsons' home that day was filled with their children and grandchildren.
"They always say there's always a great woman behind a good man, and that's how you would describe Kathy Wilson," said Denis Savard, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. "She's a great woman. She raised a lot of beautiful kids and now grandkids."
When Doug Wilson decided in 1991 that he wanted to finish his career in a Sharks uniform after 14 seasons with the Blackhawks, Kathy was fully on board. The couple at that point had four young children, Lacey, Dougie, Chelsea and Charlie, who were 7, 5, 3 and 1 at the time.
"When we moved out there to California, she knew nobody," Doug Wilson said of Kathy. "I had 22 new teammates and she was a pioneer. The fact that she was able to do that and said, 'let's go' was pretty cool."
Wilson was used to moving around as a young child.
His father was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the family lived in parts of Europe like Germany and England for a while before they relocated back to Canada.
Wilson played for the Winnipeg Clubs during the 1973-1974 season, as a 16-year-old, before the family returned to Ottawa.
Former Ottawa 67s coach Kilrea, himself a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, was close with the Wilson family. Before he coached the future Sharks general manager from 1974 to 1977, he was friends with his dad and coached Murray from 1967 to 1971.
Kilrea was impressed with Douglas' knowledge of the game, which was passed onto Murray and Doug, and hired him to be a scout with the 67s.
"(Douglas) was almost like an older brother," to Murray and Doug, Kilrea said. "He let them enjoy life, but there were rules, and they were ones you don't cross. But I think Doug Sr. was like a big brother to both Murray and Doug."
Murray, Kilrea said, told his younger brother "some of the things to stay clear of. Little tips about the right time and the wrong time to do things, or the right time and the wrong time to say things. I think that guidance from Murray would have helped him a lot."
"Obviously my brother was a big influence, trying to follow in his footsteps," Wilson said. "Brian Kilrea had a big, big impact in my life in many ways. Not just as a coach, but as a teacher of life."
Doug Wilson went on to the NHL and won the Norris Trophy in 1982, the last year Douglas was alive. He was 52.
"It rocked our family. I was devastated. I could have gone sideways. I was a mess," Wilson told last year. "(Mikita) and (Magnuson) were there for me like you wouldn't believe. Helped me in more ways than I can count. But that's the way it was."
Wilson Jr. said there is a picture in his parents' house that captures the day his dad was drafted by the Hawks.
"He received a phone call, and in the background was my grandfather," Wilson Jr. said. "I know that that's one of my dad's most cherished items because he got to be with his dad on that draft day."
Wilson said he'll be thinking about his father Monday night when he, Jarome Iginla, Kevin Lowe, Marian Hossa, Kim St-Pierre, and Ken Holland are officially inducted into the Hall.
"There's a group of people, obviously, that are not with us, and that's a part of life that ... it gets you," Wilson said, taking a moment to reflect. "It just makes you realize how fortunate you are to have the people in the past that contributed to your life.
"I talked to the Mikita family for a while, and obviously we lost Tony Esposito recently too. Those are difficult things. But you do know what they meant to you."
Wilson played his 1,000th NHL game on Nov. 21, 1992, when the Sharks hosted the Blackhawks at the Cow Palace and his children climbed onto the Zamboni for the special pre-game presentation, one of the few enjoyable moments for the team in an 11-71-2 season.
Now he has Kathy, his children, and their children with him in Toronto, part of a group of more than 50 people to see him receive this honor.
"I don't think it's actually sunk in yet," Wilson Jr. said earlier this week. "I think that when he actually goes on stage and when he's in Toronto for the weekend, I think that's when it's going to hit everyone.
"He's my best friend. I'm so happy for him. He's deserved this for a long time, and I'm just so excited the whole family can be there for him."