By Mark Simon
Special to NHL.com
February 8, 2004
The good thing for Derek Wilkinson about being named head coach of the Charlotte Checkers a week ago was that he didn’t have that much time to sit and think about how he was supposed to go about his job.
“It was on Thursday morning,” Wilkinson said, about when he found out he would be promoted from his assistant general manager job, replacing Don McAdam, who was let go with the team struggling near the .500 mark. “We had three games in three nights, so it was just go out and do it.”
Wilkinson, who earned three wins in 22 games in parts of four seasons as a backup goalie with the Tampa Bay Lightning, had spent plenty of time on an NHL bench, but hadn’t run one before until last week. The trials and tribulations can be difficult for someone who is only 29 and one of the youngest coaches in ECHL history, but it helped greatly that the Checkers players relaxed and went 3-0-1 in Wilkinson’s first four games.
“I’m just managing them now,” Wilkinson said. “We have a lot of veteran players to help make the transition easier. The hardest thing is wearing all the hats. You’re trying to motivate, teach, and manage all at the same time. You’re doing a lot of juggling.”
McAdam, who spent four seasons in the NHL was quite good at that. Known as one of the sharpest hockey minds in the league, he guided the Checkers to three straight winning seasons and two playoff berths. He also mentored Wilkinson quite well.
“The biggest thing I learned from Don was patience,” Wilkinson said. “He made his living in hockey for 26 years. He would say that you should never make a personnel decision, good or bad, right after a game. Always take a night to think about it. The patience in decision making was definitely something that I learned from him.”
Wilkinson classified his team as a group of “interesting personalities.” Thanks to an NHL affiliation with the New York Rangers, the Checkers have center David Inman, who has 27 points in a 24-game stint. Charlotte also has a couple good, young players who do the little things well. A case in point is center Ryan Cuthbert, who Wilkinson said is one of the best penalty killers in the league. In goal, the Checkers have Scott Meyer and former New York Islanders prospect David St. Germain, who was without a goalie coach in his first stint in the ECHL with the Trenton Titans. With Wilkinson working with him, St. Germain, who is 12-9-2 this season, figures to only get better.