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Wilson on His Health, Mike Grier, Being Honored by Sharks

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Doug Wilson spoke this morning on the eve of his Appreciation Night tonight at SAP Center.

Wilson, 65, took the podium at a downtown San Jose hotel, addressing the media for the first time since his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony last November.

The San Jose Sharks icon took medical leave from his role as GM two weeks after his induction into the Hall of Fame, then permanently stepped down in April.

Wilson was general manager of the Sharks from 2003 to 2022. Before that, the defenseman starred for the Chicago Blackhawks and expansion Sharks.

Doug Wilson’s opening statement:

Again, thank you Hasso [Plattner] and the entire organization because I think what I am is just a reflection of all sorts of different people in this organization. Go back to Cow Palace days, you go back to coaches, trainers, staff, office people.

I think you all know how I feel about Mr. [George] Gund. None of us would be here without him. To be up here to represent all the people, last 25-30 years, it’s an honor that I take and can’t even put into words. To be back here to do that, acknowledge that I’m starting to [think about] some memories, thinking of all the great players we’ve had that have come through this organization, not just great players, but great people. And that includes the Cow Palace days, the teams that made the first playoff run all the way through to the last couple of years where it’s been a challenge with COVID impacting…I’m so proud of our players.

Wilson, on his most memorable moments in San Jose:

The first game at the Cow Palace was one.

Another one that jumps out to me, because I went up to the top of the building at Levi’s Stadium, to see 70,000 people watching hockey in California was actually pretty emotional, when you look down and see that.

Going to the Cup Final, obviously, because that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what this organization’s ownership strives for us to win. We weren’t able to accomplish that, but I’m not going to dismiss a lot of things that the players and coaches did accomplish here.

A special moment for me, which is almost a miracle in a couple of ways, was the Vegas Game Seven, and to see that game and how we came back. I played, obviously, in Chicago Stadium, which is one of the loudest rinks in the world, but SAP was the loudest I’ve ever heard.

If you were there and you felt it, a little sidestory: One of my best friends had a massive heart attack in overtime during that game, and three of the season ticket holders carried him up to the concourse where paramedics worked on him for 45 minutes to an hour. They thought they lost him three times. I never got down to the dressing room after the game, got to see him.

The emotions, it was an amazing night in our building, season ticket holders carrying somebody up to the concourse from the lower seats. Paramedics would work on him for 45 minutes, the blue coats around it, and here is one of the greatest hockey games at the same time, so it was maybe a precursor to things that happened. But it was that day and game that certainly stood out.

Wilson, on what happened with that friend:

Well, he had a heart attack this past week. He did survive and he came back and he’s one of our biggest fans in the Sharks organization. A good friend, Gary Martin is his name, so he needs our thoughts and wishes with him right now.

Wilson, on his own health:

Everybody’s gone through stuff in the last few years. It’s something that I am not where I need to be. I’ve got some work ahead of me. I have tremendous empathy for the people that deal with things that you need to be proactive to deal with. I let some things slide and I got to a not great place, to be honest. I’ve got some work and we have great doctors and we’ll just leave it at that.

Wilson, on if the stresses of hockey may have led to him letting things slide with his health:

I think it’s called life. There were things that were on many different levels. So I’ll leave it at that.

Wilson, on being honored tonight:

I don’t look at it as if it’s for me. I look at it again, for that parallel. I can be a good representative of different people. And I’ll just say this, Mr. Gund, in his love for the game, his love for this organization, his passion for life, we wouldn’t be here. This franchise wouldn’t be here.

So I think I’m representing a lot of people. The fact that it’s me is humbling. For my family, what they said when they came here the first year. My wife, she just rallied and was “Let’s go!” All the players and staff members that have families, it’s a family commitment to do that. So it’s as much as that, I want them to have closure too.

Wilson, on the decision to step away from the GM role in April:

It was the right thing. I don’t want to do timelines or anything. I’ve probably been a bad patient. I should have known where it was getting to, and I probably should have addressed it earlier. I don’t look back, and I’m very, very proud of the fact that Mike Grier, one of our former players is involved. I think he’s going to do a great job. I’m a big supporter of his. So with the reasons I mentioned before, it just was the right time.

Wilson, on how hard it was to watch last year and not be as involved as before:

I mean, it’s a great group of guys in there. We knew there’d be an evolution after Jumbo and Pavs [left]. Particularly, Tommy and Timo, Logan, guys stepping up. Every team in the league goes through that. We had a pretty good run for a long period of time. There’s going to be a time we’ve got to kind of reset it and have people step up and do it.

But I will just say, I think the COVID experience that this team went through was different than most other teams. Having been on the road and having training camps and stuff – I’ll remember a meeting we had, I think it was in Colorado, after most of the trip [in the 2020-21 season].

I [saw] a group that I was really worried about with just depression and the things that everybody was dealing with. So I give our guys a lot of credit for pushing through, that really was not an easy time.

Wilson, on when the San Jose Sharks will return to postseason:

In this league, take a look at teams that take a step back and reset, you certainly have to replenish. In all the years that we were going for it, we moved a lot of first-round picks to try and get a chance to win. You pay the price for that.

I think the last couple of drafts, they’ve added some skill and we’ve got some combination of size. You got to have a hybrid of things to be able to compete in this game today.

So I don’t think it’s as far as people think, because it’s a matter of getting the right people in key positions, getting some surprises. We want somebody to come out of left field and make the team and make a big difference sometimes. But in this league, if you get a plan and stick to it, [and] I think Mike has got a plan: This team will be back competing in the very near future.

Wilson, on learning of the San Jose Sharks hiring Grier:

Yeah, immediately, l sent a call out to Mike. When he came here, he did a heck of a job for us. I remember where he was sitting in the dressing room. Walk in, first spot. [He just had] a presence about him.

Probably like me, he learns by osmosis. His brother obviously is doing a heck of a job [with the Miami Dolphins]. He was in New York with Chris Drury and that whole group. I think he’s ready for it. And he surrounded himself with some good people.

He’s a good man. And I think this organization is in good hands.

Wilson, on the loss of Bryan Marchment:

This is where it’s difficult, because I look at some people we’ve lost recently.

Whether it be Richie Perez, whether it be Tommy Woodcock, or Mush. I’m the wrong person to answer because I don’t understand when these things happen. It’s heartbreaking to break that news. I think we’ve all lost people in the last few years, and whenever it’s a young person, out of left field, it’s devastating.

Wilson, on why it’s important that his Appreciation Night is against his former Chicago Blackhawks:

I had such a great experience in Chicago and you look back at the last [years], people we’ve lost, biggest influences [on me] with Stan Mikita, Keith Magnuson, and Tony Esposito. These are people that influenced me as a person and as a man. [They] were there for me when I went through some tough times, when I lost my father for example.

My only kids were born in Chicago, met my wife there, playing for an Original Six organization. The cast of players that I played with is endless: Troy Murray was inspiring. Dirk Graham. Dale Tallon. Bob Murray, Dennis Savard.

The list goes on and on, and it’s only really been the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about that. Getting to play for an Original Six team and a brand-new expansion team are experiences that not everybody gets.

Wilson, on a possible return to working in hockey:

My priority is to get my health all the way back for the seven grandkids that I wanna be able to chase around. They’re probably tougher to chase around than the 23 players. I’ve always realized how important health is, and that’s been amplified a little bit the last year or so. That’s what truly is important, and I gotta get that back before you consider any other choices or activity. But I believe I’m gonna make it there.

Wilson’s parting words to Grier:

Just be himself. Then, realize what you know and what you don’t know. People that are really smart seem to ask the right questions, and he does. I was impressed with him as a player. In our conversations, when he took the job, and what he said, he’s very methodical, he has a plan. And he’ll ask questions and he’s had a lot of experiential learning too, there’s no doubt about that. It’s in his family. Just the way he played, the way he trained, the way he carried himself, and I think that’s pretty good [standard] for a lot of people.

Wilson, on what he’s comfortable sharing about his health:

I’m in good hands. I think I’m in a better place than I was 10-11 months ago. I’ve got to be a better patient, that’s what I’ve been told. But, it was concerning. But, I feel like there’s lots of light at the end of the tunnel.

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