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Johnny Wilson (1929-2011)

December 28, 2011

Johnny Wilson, head coach of one of the most improbable Calder Cup champions in American Hockey League history, passed away on Tuesday after a battle with lung cancer.

He was 82.

Wilson's playing career was spent mostly in the National Hockey League, where he won four Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950's. He also played 114 games in the AHL with the Indianapolis Capitals (1950-52) and the Rochester Americans (1960-61).

Wilson was named head coach of the Springfield Kings in 1967, guiding the club to the playoffs in his first season. After a brief stint with the NHL parent club in Los Angeles in 1969-70, Wilson returned to Springfield for the 1970-71 campaign.

Wilson's Kings finished six games under .500 that regular season (29-35-8) -- tied for sixth in the eight-team AHL -- and only qualified for the playoffs thanks to an overtime win over Quebec in a one-game tiebreaker. But Springfield then went 10-1 through three playoff rounds, winning the Calder Cup in a four-game sweep of a Providence Reds team coached by Johnny's brother, Larry -- a story recounted by Johnny when he accepted his late brother's induction into the AHL Hall of Fame in January 2011.

Johnny Wilson started the following season as head coach of the Tidewater Wings before being promoted to Detroit. He coached the Red Wings, the Colorado Rockies and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL before returning to Springfield for one more season as coach of the Indians in 1981.

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson called his uncle "a warrior ... right to the end" in announcing his passing Tuesday morning.