Over the last few weeks, the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has been taking over social media. From Twitter to YouTube to Facebook, ordinary people and celebrities alike have been getting doused with water and donating money all for a good cause: to help in the fight against ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Several people connected to the Devils have taken the challenge, as everyone from Scott O’Neil (President of the Devils and Prudential Center) to Devils mascot NJ Devil has participated. But there is someone connected to the Devils who has an even more personal connection to the disease and the fight against it.
Mitch Wilson might have only played nine games for the Devils during the 1983-84 season, but he did post two assists and had 21 PIMs. While the 21 penalty minutes attest to how tough a player he was and how hard he would battle on the ice, the 5-foot 8-inch Calgary, Alberta native’s two assists in a relatively short amount of games shows his proclivity for helping others. When Wilson announced on August 14 that he had ALS and that his doctors had given him four years to live when he was diagnosed back in July, he knew what he wanted to do: give back by helping raise funds for ALS research.
The 52-year old former forward, who primarily played center and also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins (even getting some playing time on a line with Mario Lemieux) in the NHL in the 1986-87 season recently did an interview with Mike G. Morreale on NHL.com and in it reveals that he had been working as a tugboat captain in Alaska since his retirement from professional hockey in 1995. Some of his biggest hockey highlights, according to the interview include setting a record for penalty minutes in a single season (a record that still stands in the Western Hockey League) while playing for the Seattle Breakers in 1981-82, winning a Turner Cup with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the old International Hockey League in 1988-89 and winning the Calder Cup with the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League in 1983-84, when the Portland-based team now known as the Adirondack Flames was the Devils top minor league affiliate. Wilson actually scored the Cup-clincher for Maine in that playoff, he revealed to Morreale in the interview. His biggest thrill, though, was lining up to take a faceoff with Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders while playing for the Devils in his first NHL game. As he told Morreale, he did not know whether to call him “Mr. Gillies” or “Sir.”
Wilson noticed the symptoms of ALS starting in October of 2013, while traveling home from Hawaii. He had a battery of tests done that could not explain his arm twitching and his right hand cramping and losing strength and he finally visited a neurologist at Virginia Mason Neuroscience Institute in Seattle. It was then that an MRI revealed that he had ALS. In the Morreale article, it was noted that it has been a doubly stressful time for Wilson, as he had just lost his fiancée, Collete, who died in January in an accident while working on a commercial fishing boat.
But Wilson, much like he did on the ice, has persevered. He knows that he has a long battle ahead of him, but you can rest assured that he will fight ALS every way he can. As he told Morreale: “We’ve made a lot of progress in the cancer research world, but I would like to see them come up with something that could help ALS patients.”
The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has helped raise a lot of awareness and funds for research into this horrible disease that presently has no cure and while we are all doing what we can by either directly taking part in the challenge or by just donating money, we should keep the men and women like Mitch Wilson who are living with the disease and fighting to make life better for others who also suffer from ALS in our thoughts. Wilson, like Lou Gehrig before him, has faced ALS with the bravery and dignity of a true warrior.
Wilson has set up a Facebook page to raise awareness of the fight against ALS (www.facebook.com/MitchWilsonALS) and a GoFundMe account to raise money for the fight and to cover his bills, money he may need in time as he is no longer working (www.gofundme.com/d7fprw). The GoFundMe account is overseen by his sister, Karen and his friend; former Tampa Bay Lightning head scout Jake Goertzen. According to the Morreale interview, Wilson knows he only has about four years left to fight the disease physically, but “This is about trying to help others down the road” he said.