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Subject: Lefty Wilson, 83, Trainer and Emergency N.H.L. Goalie

died November 5
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Date Posted: November 09, 2002 6:02:19 EDT

Lefty Wilson, a longtime trainer for the Detroit Red Wings who left the bench three times to become an emergency goalie in National Hockey League games twice facing his own team died Tuesday in Naples, Fla. He was 83.

Wilson, who lived in West Bloomfield, Mich., was visiting friends when he was hospitalized with heart and lung failure, his family said.

Wilson, who served as a Red Wings trainer from 1950 to 1982, exchanged his stitching thread for a goaltender's stick on the rare occasions when a goalie was hurt and could not stay in a game.

In the 1950's, N.H.L. teams carried only one goaltender. An emergency backup often an amateur goalie was kept on hand to complete games when either team's goalie was sidelined.

Wilson, who had played in the minors briefly and served as a goalie in Red Wings practices, made his N.H.L. debut on Oct. 10, 1953. He replaced Wings goaltender Terry Sawchuk, a Hall of Famer, whose kneecap was slashed by one of Maurice Richard's skates in the third period at the Montreal Forum.

The Canadiens won, 4-1, but Wilson made two especially difficult saves. He entertained fans with his chatter and did not allow a goal in 16 minutes.

On Jan. 22, 1956, he substituted for ailing Harry Lumley of the Toronto Maple Leafs, another Hall of Famer, and played 13 minutes, again without permitting a goal. But he was on the losing side once more, this time a 4-1 Wings victory.

Wilson's longest stint came on Dec. 29, 1957, when he played for 52 minutes as a Bruin, replacing goalie Don Simmons, who separated a shoulder. Wilson allowed one goal in Boston's 2-2 tie with Detroit.

"There was no way I wanted those guys to score on me," Wilson told Dick Irvin in "In the Crease" (McClelland and Stewart, 1995), referring to the Red Wings players he had ministered to as a trainer. "It would have been terrible to go to work in the dressing room the next day and have them give me the needle about how many they scored."

Ross Ingram Wilson, a native of Toronto, was a trainer for four Detroit Stanley Cup winners in the 1950's, and he designed early goaltender masks. He developed the fiberglass Sawchuk style, first worn by Sawchuk in 1962, and provided those models to goalies around the league, charging only $35 apiece, according to Douglas Hunter, author of "A Breed Apart" (Viking, 1995).

Wilson is survived by a son, Ross, of Shelby Township, Mich.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Lillian, died in 1995.

"He was a throwback," Bruce Martyn, a former Red Wings broadcaster, told The Detroit News, recalling Wilson's career as a trainer in those years of hard-nosed goalies. "He was supposed to take care of people, but he'd say: `Get up. Get up. You're not hurt.' "

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