Thursday, December 29, 2011

Johnny Wilson: 1929-2011

The Original Six era has lost another player with the news of Johnny Wilson's passing. He passed away on December 27, 2011 at the age of 82.

His nephew, Ron Wilson, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, broke the news of Wilson's death on Twitter. "My uncle, Johnny Wilson, passed away this morning at 82 yrs. He was a warrior thru & thru, right to the end. Our family will miss him dearly," wrote Wilson.

Johnny Wilson's long journey to the National Hockey League began on February 18, 1947. While playing in a high school game with his brother Larry, several scouts took note of Johnny's performance. Representing the Detroit Red Wings was Marcel Cote, who just happened to be refereeing the contest. Planted in the crowd was JoJo Grabowski, who scouted for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Following the game, Cote approached Johnny Wilson with the intention of signing him for the Wings. It was agreed they would meet later to further discuss the matter. While Cote was dressing after the game, Grabowski scooped in and took Wilson for a taxi ride. He made his case for the Leafs and Wilson was impressed the NHL club would spend the coin on a taxi just to talk with him.

Detroit's efforts were fruitless as Toronto had already posted Wilson's name on their negotiation list. However, Detroit did add Larry Wilson to their list.

The next step in the process for Toronto was to land Wilson's signature on a "C" form. All attempts in this regard failed as Johnny Wilson's only desire was to continue playing with his brother. In 1947-48 both Johnny and Larry played for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHA.

With two different NHL clubs owning their rights, another brother act would come into play to bring the Wilson brothers under one umbrella. The Leafs, hitting a brick wall each time they tried to sign Johnny Wilson, decided to take action. Dusty Blair, already part of the Leafs organization, had a brother named Chuck in the Detroit chain. Toronto made a deal with the Red Wings, sending Johnny Wilson to Detroit in exchange for Chuck Blair. Thus, each brother combination was reunited - the Blair's in Toronto and Wilson's in the Motor City.

Johnny Wilson turned pro in the 1949-50 campaign with the Omaha Knights in the USHL. He produced 41 goals in 70 games and added 39 assists for 80 points. During the regular season, both Johnny and Larry were called-up by Detroit to play in one contest against the Hawks in Chicago Stadium.

Jack Adams, Detroit's general manager, summoned Wilson for the Wings post-season play in 1950. The Wings swept all 8 games playoff games and Johnny Wilson won his first of four Stanley Cups.

In addition to playing for Detroit, Wilson skated with Chicago, Toronto and the New York Rangers. He participated in 688 NHL contests, scoring 161 goals and 171 assists for 332 points.

An example of his durability came when he set the consecutive games played record of 580. This covered a stretch of 8 NHL seasons.

When his playing career came to an end, Wilson tried his hand at coaching. In the National Hockey League, he paced behind the benches in Los Angeles, Detroit, Colorado and Pittsburgh.

John Edward Wilson was born on June 14, 1929 in Kincardine, Ontario.

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