Former NHLer and CEC Standout Wilson Joins Wilderness Staff

Clay Wilson’s hockey career brought him success at the high school, college and professional levels, and he’s now hoping to excel as a coach.

Wilson has joined the Minnesota Wilderness coaching staff as an assistant.  It’s the next chapter for a career that passed through the Northland, where Wilson played three seasons with area teams.  It began with Moose Lake-Willow River as a high school sophomore and continued to Cloquet-Esko-Carlton for his final two years of prep hockey.  He then moved on to Michigan Tech for four seasons of collegiate hockey before embarking on a 15-year pro career. His time as a pro included 36 games in the NHL, with the Columbus Bluejackets, Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.

But it was likely stints in the AHL with the Portland Pirates and Chicago Wolves that were most influential in Wilson landing this opportunity with the Wilderness.  It was on those teams where Wilson played with current Wilderness associate head coach Brett Skinner.

“I had been wanting to get into coaching and get my foot in the door, and waiting for the right opportunity,” said Wilson.  When it was announced last month that Skinner would join the Wilderness staff, the door opened for Wilson.

“Brett gave me the opportunity to come in and help out.  Me and Brett have a pretty long history playing together and against each other throughout our pro career, and I thought it would be really fun to start my coaching career working under him.”

Skinner says he was eager to begin working with his former teammate.

“We are excited to bring someone with as much hockey experience and knowledge Clay has onto our staff,” said Skinner.  “Playing with Clay on two different stops during our pro careers I know first-hand how passionate he is about the game as well as the type of person and character he has.  When learning about his recent experience with coaching skills development after his playing career, it was an absolute no brainer to bring him on with the Wilderness.  The kids will be lucky to have someone to learn from that grew up locally and reached the highest levels of hockey.  As a former defenseman Clay will be great working with our young D, and especially helping with an eye on power play development and the players development at the offensive blue line.  Clay was an offensive player and had some short stints playing forward professionally as well so he is very well rounded coming in and being able to pass on his experiences he gained from a long professional career.  We are excited to have another member of the staff that can help in the process of skill development for our young players.”

Wilson’s professional accomplishments include playing in three AHL All-Star games, and twice being named an AHL second-team all-star.  He also helped lead the Muskegon Fury to a United Hockey League championship in 2005.

Wilson is one of Skinner’s two assistant coaches—the other being Kyle Brodie.

A 2001 graduate of Carlton High School, Wilson now lives in Sturgeon Lake with his wife Mila and two sons:  Nicholas (3) and Michael (1).