FRASER, Mich. – Randy Wilson realized early on in his life that playing professional hockey simply wasn’t meant to be.
That was more than 30 years ago.
Since playing a smattering of minor league games for the Flint Generals, Kalamazoo Wings and Milwaukee Admirals in the old International Hockey League from 1977-1984, Wilson has stayed involved in the game as a goalie coach and goalie consultant.
He first started working NHLPA goalie schools and camps back in 1969 with former NHL goaltender Don Simmons and also worked in the late 1970s until the early 1990s with Quent Riha Goalie Schools.
“I was the demonstrator for the NHLPA schools for four years,” explained Wilson. “That was the first time I really got an introduction to instructing and coaching. Then I got involved in youth hockey when I was done (playing) and I started out helping local youth teams, which progressed into AAA hockey and then junior hockey. I learned a lot from watching some of the goalies that I played with and it intrigued me to see the differences in the styles, the different ways the goalies played the game, how they approached the game. I learned to accept the technical disciplines of the game with Quent.”
From about 2000 to the present, Wilson said he’s been fine-tuning how he teaches and instructs goalies and has been developing his own concepts and philosophies about the goaltending position.
He has been a goaltending coach with the United States National Team Development Program and the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit and an assistant coach with the Capital Centre Pride and Detroit Jr. Red Wings (two former North American Hockey League franchises) and is currently an assistant coach with the Metro Jets of the North American 3 Hockey League, in addition to scouting for the NAHL’s Springfield Jr. Blues.
And his slew of clients has numerous names of players that have gone on to NCAA hockey, minor pro and even the NHL. Names like Mike Brown (Saginaw, Boston Bruins draft pick), Ryan Daniels (Saginaw, Ottawa Senators draft pick), Eddie Pasquale (Saginaw, Winnipeg Jets prospect), Joe Palmer (NTDP, drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks), Josh Unice (NTDP, Chicago draft pick), Brett Bennett (NTDP, Boston University, drafted by Phoenix Coyotes), Jason Torf (Air Force Academy), Jake Paterson (Saginaw, drafted by Detroit Red Wings), Brad Phillips (NTDP, University of Notre Dame, drafted by Philadelphia Flyers), Jimmy Spratt (United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers, Calgary draft pick) Josh Hattinger (Capital Centre, Northern Michigan University) have been tutored by Wilson.
In addition, Wylie Rogers (NTDP, University of Alaska-Fairbanks) and Derek Smith (Capital Centre) were two goalies that helped Metro win a Junior B national championship in 2002 when Jon Cooper (now with the Tampa Bay Lightning) was behind the Jets bench.
“As a coach, when you get to work with goalies of that caliber, it’s a huge stimulus and you just thrive on it,” Wilson said. “These kids compete so hard and they’re sponges. You can give them information and they just absorb it. They ask questions and they want you to challenge them. Doing this has been a blast.”
Recently, Wilson has been on the ice at Fraser Hockeyland with NHL-ready goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and OHL veteran Devin Williams.
Ironically, Hellebuyck was tendered by the Jets in 2011, but he wound up making the roster of the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes that fall, committed to NCAA Division I Massachusetts-Lowell during the season and was drafted by Winnipeg in 2012. In 2014, Hellebuyck won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goalie.
Through all of these accolades and honors, Hellebuyck chose to work with Wilson during the offseason – a testament to Wilson’s reputation as a knowledgeable, hard-working and patient coach who only wants the best for his players.
“He bags you,” laughed Hellebuyck. “I ask for a lot and Randy gives you a lot to handle. It’s good, though, because Randy puts you in some tough situations where we really get to test ourselves. He gets you in shape, too. I guarantee that if you work with him for even just a month, you’ll be in shape.”
Williams suited up in Jets colors for the first half of the 2011-12 season before signing with the Erie Otters. He’ll play his final junior season in 2015-16 with the Otters as one of the team’s allotted three 20-year-old “overage” players.
“Devin is another kid I hope I made an impact with,” Wilson said. “He’s a young goalie (doesn’t turn 20 until October) and when I was coaching in Saginaw, I was hoping to draft him to his hometown team, but he went to Erie. I worked with him when he was playing midgets and we hit it right off. Then we had the opportunity to bring him to Metro, where he and Dillon Kelley were a great combination (Kelley is now entering his sophomore season at NCAA D-III Adrian College). They were both technically-sound goalies and I think their time with Metro helped get them to where they are today.”
Justin Quenneville, Metro’s head coach and general manager, has been in awe at what Wilson has accomplished on the ice at Fraser.
“When our gym (Michigan Athletic Training or MAT) introduced on-ice goalie sessions, we knew Randy would be a great teaching tool for young prospects and two of those players are Devin and Connor, who benefit from the environment available here," said Quenneville. “Our facility, with Randy's help, allows these two among other goaltenders to maximize the freedom of training and skating when they want with whomever they want for shooters.”
Quenneville added that he’s also a fan of the magic Wilson does with goalies at any level.
“Knowing Randy personally, I am a big fan of his passion for the game, but more importantly, his approach,” said Quenneville. “I have worked with many goaltending coaches and he understands and can target the players’ needs immediately while demanding work ethic from each one of them. For the Jets, Randy is a great recruiting tool because of his background and knowledge.
“After seeing what Randy has done over the course of the seasons I have worked with him, any goalie will benefit from his knowledge and approach to teaching the position with the utmost professionalism.”
So what’s in the future? Like the players he’s teaching that want to keep advancing, the same aspirations go for Wilson, who has also started working with former University of Michigan star Bryan Hogan.
“Ultimately, I would love to get a job in the NHL and I’ve been trying for the last four years,” he said. “I interviewed with Tampa Bay a few years ago and thought that I had a good shot at that. If I could get a job in the NHL as what they call a developmental goalie coach, that would be my goal, simply because I like working with the younger prospects and I think they’re a lot more hungry and more receptive to constructive criticism.
“That’s ultimately what I would like to do.”
Photo – Connor Hellebuyck, Randy Wilson, Jack Campbell