(WINDSOR, ON) – The hockey community of Windsor-Essex definitely has more bragging rights in the person of Michael DiPetro; the starting goalie for the Windsor Spitfires and 2017-18 OHL player of the year candidate.
DiPietro is now bound for the big show with the Vancouver Canucks, having been drafted and signed after backstopping the underdog Spitfires to the 2017 Memorial Cup championship. He was also the first and only 18 year-old junior hockey player to ever be invited to travel and play with the Canadian men’s national team.
While the Amherstburg native was no doubt developed by many personalities in the ranks of the local minor hockey associations, of late the finishing touches were in trusted to the Windsor Spitfires hockey coach, Perry Wilson.
Here’s the very interesting and humbling story of Wilson’s path to success as DiPietro’s Junior A coach.
(The Square) As a long term Windsorite, you were more known as a strong swimmer, volleyball player and track athlete during your high school days. How is it you became a hockey coach?
(Perry Wilson) I’ve always had a passion for hockey. Growing up (in Nova Scotia) I had cousins that played for their churches.
It was a league called the CHL. However is was the Coloured Hockey League. They played very fast, but goalies were not very good back then.
When I moved to Ontario in my formative years I had a strong passion for hockey still, but never got the chance to play until I could afford to buy my own equipment.
By then, minor hockey was over so I started to get into coaching. Patrice Hennessy was my first head coach at the University of Windsor. She knew I played and asked if I would help her out with the goalies.
I was hooked.
I coached the women’s team for many years. In 2009 my head coach received an email from Hockey Canada. It was an invitation to the first ever goalie coaches clinic.
I went and not only enjoyed the clinic, I asked anyone that would listen to me about how I could be a part of this because it’s the greatest thing I’d ever seen.
Within a year I had my first team with Hockey Canada. I’ve since done 6 events and won gold in the first five, including a World Championship with the U-18s and the Senior Women’s World Championship.
(TS) I won’t give away our age, but we both graduated from Forster in the early 80s. You didn’t begin coaching at the University of Windsor till the 1990s, correct?
(PW) As alluded to early I only started coaching in 1996, by way of invitation, because I knew I had a burning desire to help goalies.
I even did an Ironman in 2009 to show my athletes that I was an athlete as well and that the drive was not an issue. But hockey was always there, as my first love, I just had to wait for the right opportunity.
(TS) Did any other playing or coaching positions interest you.
(PW) Playing goal was just my true passion. I’ve been asked to play out, but it’s just not for me. All I can say is that with most players there is so much more to the game offensively, defensively, passing, shooting, and skating 200 feet of ice.
To train goalies, I just need a good athlete that is willing to take on the game and defend the net.
It’s just a position that, with time, focus, and commitment, you can learn. It takes courage and nerves of steel to be a goalie. It’s a lonely spot for sure. Everyone else can make mistakes.
Every mistake by a goalie shows up on the scoreboard. So, focus is a key component.
(TS) Who are some of your favourite NHL goalies?
(PW) My favourite goalie of all time is Grant Fuhr. With all that he must have endured in hockey. Racism was, and still is, a big problem. He was very successful in winning the Stanley Cup; three times, I believe.
My favourite goalie now; Carey Price. His focus and commitment to his craft is second to none. He doesn’t make excuses. He just plays.
He also gives back to the community in very big ways. Perhaps some day I will move up again. No one thought I would ever be here. Never give up!
(TS) I just came to realize that I never knew you played goalie yourself. Did you start out playing in Halifax or during your days at Forster?
(PW) Yep, I still play. Played pick-up hockey today. However, I couldn’t play until after high school, when I was 18 years old. I just love it!
(TS) Good for you brother! It has been, and remains, my favorite sport, also. I couldn’t afford hockey gear neither, till I worked as a firefighter. I think I surprised a few of the boys, and myself a bit, too, that I could convert my road and floor hockey skills to the ice well into my 30s. Did you ever try-out and/or play for Forster?
(PW) No. I wasn’t confident enough then. Confidence and self esteem are huge factors which makes coaching a tougher job with some players. Yes sir, wish I knew then what I know now!
(TS) How many goalie coaches are with the Spits?
(PW) I’m the one and only goalie coach. All me brother.
(TS) Gotta love it! What is your assessment of the current Spitfire goalies?
(PW) DiPietro is a stud. The rest of the field will battle to be his back up. Should be a competition of four; two returnees and two newbies.
(TS) Yah buddy. I like the temperament of DiPietro. Been wondering if he’s “Bobby D” the lawyer’s son?
(PW) No, his dad works for Essex Hydro. Great guy!
(TS) Now that we’ve come full circle, what do you think of DiPietro going to the Vancouver Canucks
(PW) I think it’s terrific. His goalie coach is Dan Cloutier. He was a smaller goalie also, so he believes in Mikey. I feel he will get a legitimate shot at it.