- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

When Ron Wilson was fired by the Washington Capitals last May, he said he was sure what he wanted to do in the immediate future nothing and probably would take a year off from the only field in which he had ever worked, hockey.

He didn't last a year, even half a year. When he was fired by Anaheim in 1997, he was hired almost immediately by Washington. When the Caps sent him packing and he said he wanted time off, he was on Canadian TV sports channel TSN as soon as the season started, reminding general managers that he was available and even had a bag packed.

That Ron Wilson would return to the NHL was a given; the only question was where. It turned out to be San Jose, where the Sharks suddenly got sick of hearing Darryl Sutter's voice and started underperforming on a grandiose scale. They forgot, as most players eventually seem to, that it was Sutter who guided the team to progressively better records for five straight seasons.

Wilson is familiar with that reasoning. When management in Anaheim got sick of hearing him carp about not spending enough on free agency and other matters, he was sacked after taking a 4-year-old franchise to the playoffs and beating Detroit in the first round. When the Caps' players got sick of hearing Wilson preach his version of the sport, they tuned him out and soon the coach, rightly or wrongly, was gone.

Washington will play in San Jose on Saturday night, Wilson's fourth game behind the Sharks' bench. It will have special meaning, but it won't be the same as the first time the Caps played the Mighty Ducks. Wilson took over the Caps in the middle of the summer and had plenty of time to assess the situation and individuals.

Now, with a third of the season gone, he will still be trying to determine what his players can do under certain situations and will have less time to worry about Washington.

And for that matter, the underachieving Caps have more than enough problems of their own, so there is no need to be worried about facing Wilson on the other bench.

"One of the hardest games I have coached in, emotionally, was the first time I went back to Anaheim," Wilson said the other day in a conference call with reporters. "That was difficult from an emotional point of view but this situation, it doesn't bother me so much. We're playing here; I don't have to worry about going back to Washington. Obviously, I am going to have some feelings in the game. You spend five years and you give up a lot in an organization, you still have some special feelings for people and I have a lot of friends there.

"But we have to win the game and, hopefully, we can prepare to do that. But I am not going to overstress this game to the team. It's a very important game whether it's Washington or Pittsburgh or whoever. Every game is equally as important, and I would never ask them to go up there and try harder because the Caps let me go."

Wilson's jumping back into the pool so quickly surprised a lot of people possibly even the coach himself, who was living in the dream home he and his wife had built in Hilton Head, S.C., and playing golf every day. He was living off the $900,000 the Caps owed him for the final year of his contract, so it wasn't like he was forced to find a way to make ends meet.

"You know, I said that to myself after the second period of the first game," Wilson said with a laugh. "Columbus scored with two seconds to go in the second, and I came in and said that to [assistant coach] Tim Hunter."

He maintained that the firing of Sutter caught him off guard, as it did the rest of the NHL. Wilson had been in hockey all his life and was following the sport as a fan and as part of a panel discussion group on TSN.

"I think I had six or seven months off, which is pretty good," he said. "I don't know if I am programmed to do this or this is what I do "

Wilson continues to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle both players and coaches in the league, both with their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup. That his name is not there with those of his relatives is one of the primary things that drives him, Wilson admitted.

But those who know Wilson feel the man is an NHL addict and that winning one Stanley Cup will never be enough. The fear of losing drives him even harder, and there are times when he takes that out on those who work under him. That may be his only undoing.

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