FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 11, 2023
FROM CAPTAIN TO COACHING, WILSON THRIVES IN NEW ROLE
By Pam Shebest for the K-Wings
KALAMAZOO, MI - When he has some free time, Ben Wilson definitely will not be found in a movie theater.
As video coach for the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings, the former defenseman has plenty of screen time already.
“I should have bought blue light glasses earlier,” Wilson laughed. “In my off time, it’s like I don’t really want to watch a movie.
“I’ve been watching the computer all day. When I get out of the house, go for a walk, have a pint somewhere.”
Breaking down game tape is a new experience for Wilson, who spent seven years with the K-Wings before playing in Europe the last two.
“During the week, I’m looking at our schedule and doing the pre-scout,” he explained. “I’ll watch the games the last time we played (an upcoming opponent) and watch their game last weekend to see their tendencies and things they do and how we can beat it or how we should play against it.
“On game days, usually I’m skating the extra skaters at the end of practice with Schultzy (assistant coach Kohl Schultz).”
Instead of behind the bench during games, Wilson is in the office preparing the video in case head coach Joel Martin wants to check it between periods.
Back in the ‘Zoo
Returning to Kalamazoo was a no-brainer for Wilson.
Besides his history with the team, his girlfriend, Andrea Liles, is a fourth-grade teacher at Parchment North Elementary School.
They met before the pandemic interrupted the K-Wings 2019-20 season.
Wilson was in his fourth year as team captain when the season ended.
With hockey in North America shut down the next season, Wilson signed to play in Romania with ASC
Corona Brasov that year and then the Manchester Storm in England last year before retiring.
“I felt like it was a point in my playing career where I wasn’t really getting looks for the American League,” he said. “That’s why I played in North America, because I wanted to play the best hockey I could.
“I wasn’t getting many opportunities, so I was just trying to extend my career (in Europe) by playing less games and hopefully making more money and see the world.”
When Martin learned Wilson was retiring, he asked Liles if Wilson was any good with computers.
“She said ‘No,’ which is the truth, but I’ve come a long way in that regard,” Wilson said.
“It was a good opportunity to get my feet wet in this role and see what coaching is all about. So far it’s been very beneficial.”
Martin and Wilson were K-Wings teammates for four years and Martin was an assistant coach for the next two.
“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Martin said of hiring Wilson. “From playing with him to coaching him, I knew what kind of character he had and what kind of leadership he brought.
“I knew the work ethic he brought and his knowledge of the game. I felt video coach/assistant coach was the best fit for him coming out of his first year playing to get him that experience in both roles.”
Martin said Wilson’s knowledge exceeded his expectations.
“Coming from being a player so recently, where I’m becoming more removed from playing, I think his perspective from a player’s point of view is something that is important,” Martin said.
“His knowledge from different drills and skill drill planning have been exceptional.”
Coaching a good fit
Wilson said his playing career has prepared him for coaching.
“Being four years as a captain and going over to Europe, you’re one of the older guys and you’re already kind of coaching out on the ice, helping your younger teammates out in the drills, that kind of thing,” he said.
Another thing hockey gave him is a master’s degree in project management and construction from University of Salford in Manchester.
“That was one of the deals (with Manchester) that they would pay for my education,” he said. “I was writing (the dissertation) over the summer.”
That gives Wilson a backup in case coaching does not work out.
In that case, “I’d probably try to use my degree in some capacity,” he said. “I’ve worked a lot of years on the golf course in the off-season. I’ve worked at probably the NHL of golf courses in Banff (The Fairmont
Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada).
“If I never work on a golf course again, I’d be happy because I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve worked at one of the nicest ones in Canada.’”
That course includes the Devil’s Cauldron, one of the top 18 holes in the world.
“There’s been some big names there,” he said. “They have pictures of Marilyn Monroe golfing. Some cool stories coming out of that course.”
Looking back at his time in Kalamazoo, the highlights are his friendships.
“I was here seven years, which in the Coast is a long time,” he said. “All the years blend together.
“You always remember the guys you were with, the guys who made it fun, the guys you battled with.
That’s probably my biggest takeaway.”
Wilson said there are a few times when he is watching film that he misses playing, especially the overtime thrillers, the close games and celebrating goals.
“I don’t miss waking up sore or lining up to a huge guy and being like this is my job tonight,” he said. “I don’t really miss that too much.”
However, he still gets to share in the highlights.
“I love the day-to-day, coming to the rink,” he said. “I especially like going on the road with the guys, the bus trips.
“Me and (equipment manager) Austin (Dykstra) are roommates. It’s almost like I never really left, never really retired.”
It’s the last regular-season $3 Friday game of the season, and we want to celebrate you, the fans, as the K-Wings take on the Toledo Walleye on April 14 at Wings Event Center. Get your tickets HERE, and we’ll supply the $3 beers, sodas and hot dogs so all you need to do is come cheer on your favorite team. We’ll also be giving away free team posters upon entry to the arena.
The Kalamazoo Wings are a professional hockey team located in southwest Michigan that has been a staple in the Kalamazoo, MI professional sports landscape since 1974. The K-Wings compete in the ECHL and are the AA affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.