Remembering Rik Wilson
Rik Wilson, who passed away suddenly on January 22, 2016, was one of the most kind, caring people I have ever met. I am honored to have known him. I wrote the following piece in 2012. Rik liked it and was very touched by it. I believe he liked it because it was about his family, not just about him.
A tribute to Rik Wilson:
Power Play: The Wilson Hockey Dynasty
It was a chance meeting at the lighting store. The assistant helping us pick out sconces told us about her husband, a former pro hockey player, who owned a training gym nearby. We’d been searching for the right place to work out. From the first moment walking into Rik Wilson’s gym, you know it’s a special place, a hockey place. The walls are hung with display cases containing game-worn hockey jerseys; St. Louis Blues team photos adorn the back wall, and in the far corner hockey sticks lean against the wall.
Over the years of working out with Rik in his gym aptly named “Power Play,” we learned the history of his amazingly talented family, four generations of pro hockey players. In between biceps curls and bench presses, we heard about his father “Wink Jr.” and his grandfather “Wink,” his son Brock, and his nephew Jordan, hockey players all.
In 1939 Roy (Wink) Wilson, the founder of this hockey dynasty, moved his family north from Kingston to the gold-mining town of Timmins, Ontario, when William Richard (Wink Jr.) was 3 years old. Nomadic tribes such as the Ojibwa and the Cree first settled Timmins, in the taiga of northeast Ontario. Once a trading post on the Porcupine Trail, it’s now famous for being Shania Twain’s hometown. Wink played for the top-flight senior A club in Schumacher, just down the road from Timmins. Times were tough in the dirty 30s; jobs were scarce. Roy had two jobs, mining for gold 5,000 feet down and scouting northern Ontario for Detroit Red Wing prospects. The general manager of the Red Wings at the time was Hall of Famer Jack Adams, who placed his trust in Wink to find the best talent for the team.
His son Wink Jr. grew up playing the game, going to public school during the day and at night, chasing the puck on the ice with the other miners’ sons. He went on to a hockey scholarship, and played for the British Hockey League team, the Nottingham Panthers. There’s a photo of Wink Jr. on the back row of the 1958-59 Panthers line-up displayed in Rik’s gym. When he returned from his stint overseas, Wink II settled in California where he played with the Long Beach semi- pro team, and where Rik was born.
With hockey in his genes Wink Jr.’s son, William Richard (Rik) was a natural on the ice. At the age of 19, he was a 1980 first round draft pick for the St. Louis Blues, and played in 251 NHL regular season games and 22 playoff games. He started playing pro in Kingston, Ontario with the Kingston Canadians. Like many hockey pros and the tribes that settled Timmins, his was a peripatetic life, always on the move: the Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Montana Magic, Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Moncton Golden Flames, Nova Scotia Oilers. He skated in the overseas circuit too, suiting up in Austria, West Germany and Italy.
Rik founded his gym in 1994, after retiring from pro hockey. He’s still invited to play in Blues alumni games, and hasn’t lost his finesse on the ice. Aspiring hockey players seek out his facility for training; Blues players keep in shape there in the off -season. Tough guy Cam Janssen was a regular there. The TVs on the wall are tuned in to hockey matches; the sounds of hockey surround us when we work out.
Rik will puff up with pride when he speaks of the next in line in the Wilson hockey dynasty: his son Brock and his nephew Jordan, both pro hockey players on the 2011-2012 roster for the GMB Nottingham Panthers. The Panthers now belong to the Elite Ice Hockey League, the British Hockey League disbanded in 1996. Brock is a defenseman like his dad. And like his dad, he’s been a nomad as his career advanced: the Stockton Thunder, the Flint Generals, the Albany River Rats, the Augusta Lynx, the Dayton Bombers, the Toledo Walleye and the Utah Grizzlies. Brock and Jordy’s jerseys from some of their previous teams hang on display, sharing the wall with Rik’s Blues and Blackhawks jerseys.
The family has had their share of battle injuries. While playing in Salt Lake, Brock was slashed by an errant skate to the neck, a wound that narrowly missed his carotid artery. A bright red line on the left side of his neck bears witness to the moment. Rik’s face is scarred from the left edge of his nose down to his lip, the result of a through and through wound from a skate edge while playing the Ottawa 67s. “Winkie (as Rik calls his dad) and my Mom were so upset that I let the team doc sew me up at the rink, and didn’t go to the hospital for the plastic surgeon,” remembers Rik. Despite that, the scar looks pretty good, and blends in with the contour of his face.
Rik has on display the latest picture of his son, a Nottingham Panthers poster. Brock smiles broadly, exposing the gap from the lack of a front tooth, knocked out early in his first season with the Panthers. He stands with his cousin Jordan Fox, the team’s center. Jordy is the former East Coast League All Star Center, and veteran of teams on the East Coast, the AHL and Finland.
Interviewed by BBC East Midlands Today, Brock and Jordy were asked about the generations of hockey talent in the family. “In our family you’re born with skates in your crib,” said Brock, smiling. Jordy adds, “We have some of the younger ones coming up too, that are a lot better than we were at their age.” He’s referring to his younger cousins, his uncle Dave’s two sons. Rik’s youngest son, Brody, has already picked up a stick at the age of four.
In the summer of 2011, Rik took a few days off from personalized training: the family got together for a wedding anniversary. Wink II and his wife Betty Anne celebrated 50 years of marriage. Rik and his family returned to Kingston for the reunion. He still holds the Kingston Canadians record for the most points in a single season for a defenseman (100). The hockey dynasty was reunited. He showed us pictures when he returned, pictures of a family enjoying being together: an ordinary family with extraordinary talent on the ice.
Tags: Albany River Rats, Augusta Lynx, Brock Wilson, Calgary Flames, Cam Janssen, Chicago Blackhawks, Dayton Bombers, Detroit Red Wings, Elie Ice Hockey League, Flint Generals, Jordan Fox, Kingston Canadians, Moncton Golden Flames, Montana Magic, NHL, Nottingham Panthers, Nova Scotia Oilers, Ottawa 67s, Power Play, Rik Wilson, Salt Lake Golden Eagles, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Blues Alumni, Stockton Thunder, Toledo Walleye, Utah Grizzlies, William Richard Wilson, Wink Wilson