85 Years of Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Doug Wilson
In this installment of the "85 Years" series, Hockey Hall of Famer and Blackhawks Ambassador Tony Esposito discusses the career of defenseman Doug Wilson.
You can control the way you play the game, but when you think about it honestly, you don’t control much else. You can’t really decide what team you’re on; of course, you’d rather play on a good team than a bad team, but that’s not really your choice. And players on good teams get a lot of recognition, whether they deserve it or not. I’ve seen it happen.
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Pierre Pilote on Bobby Hull
> Denis Savard on Patrick Kane
> Pat Foley on Eddie Olczyk
> Bob Verdi on Stan Mikita
Think of a player like Gump Worsley. When he was with the New York Rangers in the 50s, he got pounded every game on a terrible team for years and years. Everybody knew he had talent, but they still sort of laughed him off. Finally, he moved to Montreal and played really well; all of a sudden everyone was saying, “Wow, he’s a great goalie!” He was always a great goalkeeper. He just never got recognized because of the team around him. The only difference was success.
That’s what comes to my mind when I think of my time with Doug Wilson, too. I’ve played with a lot of defensemen internationally – Hall of Fame guys – Doug was better than most of them. Even now, there is a young generation of hockey fans who associate him with one of the Blackhawks’ conference rivals, and don’t give him due credit for all that he accomplished in Chicago. It took too long for him to get the recognition he deserved.
Even in his first few years in the league, when I played with him, he was a complete defenseman. He had everything: good size, he could shoot a rocket, he was a good skater and really smart. He anticipated the play very well, and I could always count on him to be where he needed to be. I always had a little bit of added comfort when he was on the ice.
Maybe the best label I can give him is “consistent.” Game in and game out, he was outstanding, and he won us a lot of games with big goals at the right time. He played… well, I don’t even know how many minutes a game… in every phase. I think he’s been overlooked, and I can’t believe his name doesn’t come up more regularly with some of the best defenders of his era.
By this point, you can tell that I have the highest regard for him, and I think the Chicago fans knew what they had in him from day one. But it took the rest of the league a long time to figure it out.
Most of the time I was playing for the Hawks, I saw Doug and defensive partner Bob Murray get overlooked by most of the league. I don’t remember how many All-Star teams each of them made, but they were each better defensemen than people gave them credit for. We got saddled with some pretty bad teams, which hurt them and hurt me. It was tough to play on some of those teams in the '70s, but we did what we could. I don’t think you could ask much more out of him than what you saw.
Of course, he eventually got credit as one of the great defensemen in Blackhawks history, and he was a very important part of some very good teams in the ‘80s. Doug was always a competitive player – a real fighter who would give his all every shift, and I can only imagine the thrill that he had playing on those very successful teams.
Doug Wilson was the same player whether he was on a Stanley Cup contender or a last-place team, and it was consistently excellent. He may not be enshrined yet, but he’ll always be a Hall of Famer in my eyes.