GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes General Manager John Chayka met with Head Equipment Manager Stan Wilson this summer to get a sense of Wilson’s duties and needs. It’s standard fare for a first-year GM to gather information on his staff through such meetings, but Chayka made an offer that Wilson wasn’t expecting.
“He asked, ‘what can we do to make this thing better for you? Maybe get somebody to help you doing this or that?'” Wilson recalled.
During a previous conversation, captain Shane Doan had told Chayka he didn’t understand why teams could spend tens of millions of dollars on their payroll but go frugal on the support staff.
“I tend to agree,” Chayka said. “It’s an area where you spend a little to support the players and give them the best possible experience. We’re trying to build a family environment so I thought it would help to have a family member involved.”
Wilson noted to Chayka that his son, Denver, had grown up assisting Stan for the Coyotes, and had worked three seasons for the Los Angeles Kings (winning two Stanley Cups to Stan’s chagrin), but he asked Chayka to ask other people for recommendations because he didn’t want to be accused of nepotism.
“I reached out to a few people in the Kings organization, and because he grew up around the rink here, I talked to players who had been around him and it was nothing but glowing reports about him in terms of his work ethic, attitude and what he brought to the table,” said Chayka, who didn’t even bother interviewing other candidates. “It was an easy decision.”
With that, one of the coolest stories of the Coyotes season took shape. Son joined father to expand the Coyotes’ hard-working equipment staff of four, which also includes equipment manager Tony Silva and assistant equipment manager Jason Rudee.
“You can’t describe the joy of working with your son and I can’t thank John and Tip [coach Dave Tippett] enough,” Stan said. “It’s awesome. Tony and Jason have known him for so long while he was growing up so it’s like one big family working together.”
Denver Wilson, 29, is no stranger to dad’s duties. He spent middle school, high school and part of his college years helping out the staff by filling water bottles, preparing the players’ bench and doing laundry during and after games.
He worked for the CHL’s Arizona Sundogs in Prescott, the AHL’s Houston Aeros when they made a run to the 2011 Calder Cup Finals and lost to Binghamton. And he faced off against his dad in the 2012 Western Conference Final when the Kings beat the Coyotes on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
“To be honest, that was an emotional time for me,” Denver said. “The Coyotes have been a big part of my life. It’s a team I’ve always respected because of the way they treated my father.
“Knowing that guys like Shane Doan and my dad had never been out of the first round, it was tough for me and I was glad once that series was over so I could be myself again.”
Denver is the more gregarious of the two; a likely product of growing up around big personalities like Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick. He loves to hold court and tell tales. Stan is always friendly, but notoriously difficult to land for media interviews because he hates that sort of attention.
“They are a good offset of each other in that way but what they have in common is a talent for making players feel at home and comfortable,” Chayka said. “Those two, and Tony and Jason, leave nothing for the players to worry about.”
Stan Wilson, whom Doan calls his best friend, has always made a point of trying to keep the locker room light and providing a shoulder to lean on, but the staff has myriad other duties for the team and visiting teams that require long hours. Rudee admits there are nights during the season when he sleeps on a cot at Gila River Arena.
“Work is still work,” Stan said. “We’re not sitting around chit-chatting when it’s time to work. We’ve all worked together a long time so we know what to expect from each other.
“When we’re on the road and it’s supper time, two or three of us go out and joke around, but to have my son has made road trips slightly different. Everybody wants to be home with their family. I get to take part of mine on the road with me.”
Denver was working as an operations manager for a company that manufactures commercial air conditioning units when Chayka called. It didn’t take much to convince him to return to a place so familiar.
“I tried to branch out in life and found those things just weren’t for me,” Denver said. “When you grow up in something, like I did with this, it feels comfortable. It feels like where I belong. It’s hard work, but there’s way more pros than cons in this job. There’s a lot of laughs every day. It’s fun being with my dad.”
Avalanche at Coyotes
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Avalanche — 19-45-3. Coyotes — 24-35-8.
Season series: Tied, 1-1
Injury report: Coyotes — D Kevin Connauton (upper body) and C Alexander Burmistrov (concussion) are day to day. C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is on injured reserve. Avalanche — G Semyon Varlamov (groin) and D Nikita Zadorov (broken ankle) are out for the season.
Scouting the Avalanche: Colorado owns the NHL’s worst record by far, giving it the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and the right to select C Nolan Patrick, if the Avs truly intend to trade C Matt Duchene this summer. … Duchene leads the team with 16 goals. C Nathan MacKinnon leads the team with 30 assists and 44 points. … Colorado is last in the NHL in goals per game (196), last in goals against per game (3.28), 29th in power-play percentage (13.5 percent), and 25th in penalty killing (78 percent).