Wilson Recovering After Stroke

TORONTO (Dec. 15) — Former National Hockey League defenseman and head coach Ron Wilson says he is doing his utmost to rehab from a stroke suffered in the first week of December.

Upon sending an email of support to Wilson on Wednesday, he replied: “Thank-you Howard! I miss you guys [the Toronto media] a lot. We had our differences, but it was all in good fun. I suffered a stroke but am working hard in rehab to get it back. Take care and say hello to everybody! I’ll be in rehab hospital for two weeks and get home for Christmas.” Wilson played 64 games on defense for the Maple Leafs between 1977–78 and 1979–80. He then coached the club from the start of the 2008–09 season to Mar. 2, 2012, when he was fired by general manager Brian Burke and replaced by another ex–Leafs blue–liner, Randy Carlyle.

Veteran columnist Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times broke the news of Wilson’s stroke. The Windsor, Ont. native is just 61 years of age. Elliott covered Wilson when he was the first coach of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (for four seasons) beginning in 1993–94. She also attended the inaugural World Cup of Hockey tournament in 1996, when Wilson guided the United States (in Philadelphia) to a startling comeback over Canada in the best–of–three final… and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, where Wilson’s American club fell to Canada in overtime of the gold medal match on a goal by Sidney Crosby.

Wilson’s last public appearance before the stroke was Nov. 30, also in Philladelphia, when honored by USA Hockey for the ’96 World Cup triumph. Russ Cohen of the website Sportsology.com snapped the photo, below, of Wilson (at left) looking on as his associate coach on the team, Paul Holmgren, spoke to reporters.

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Though best–remembered for our YouTube moment at the Air Canada Centre on Mar. 10, 2009 (http://bit.ly/2gCV5RQ), I had a good relationship with Wilson during his Leaf years (covering the team as a radio reporter for The FAN–590 from 1994–2011). Ron didn’t mince words and could be rather cutting at times… but so could I. More importantly, he was learned, well–spoken and a terrific student of the game.

Since being let go by the Blue and White, Wilson has lived near Mirtle Beach, S.C., golfing and spending time with his grandchildren. On behalf, I’m sure, of all hockey fans, I wish him a fast and full recovery.

LEAFS TO MAKE HISTORY? Though hardly unexpected, it’ll be rather shameful if the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs for the 11th consecutive time in a full National Hockey League schedule.

The NHL record for such futility is 10 seasons — shared currently by the Leafs and the Florida Panthers. The Sunrisers missed out between 2000–01 and 2010–11 before dropping a seven–game Eastern Conference quarterfinal to New Jersey in April 2012. The Leafs have not been among the top 16 NHL teams during a full, 82–game slate since 2003–04, one year before an entire season was canceled by the owners. If that seems to you like five decades ago, you’re not alone. Toronto, of course, made the playoffs in the 48–game, lockout–shortened sked of January–April 2013 and was eliminated by Boston in Game 7 of the opening round.

Others have neared (or are closing in on) the record.

Edmonton has missed for nine consecutive seasons of 82 games, having won the Western Conference championship the year after the lost ’04–05 campaign (the Oilers were defeated by Carolina in the 2006 Stanley Cup final). That matches the Colorado Rockies–New Jersey Devils playoff famine of nine years between 1978–79 and 1986–87. Boston and Washington have each missed in eight consecutive seasons — the Bruins from 1959–60 to 1966-67; the Capitals in their first eight NHL seasons (1974–75 to 1981–82). Seven other teams (Calgary, Columbus, Detroit, Minnesota North Stars, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets) have been absent for seven consecutive years from the Stanley Cup tournament. On the flip–side, Detroit is likely to fall short this season for the first time since 1989–90.

GLORIFYING THE OBSCURE

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A couple of my favorite peeps in the media biz — Ken Reid and Jeff Marek of Sportsnet — have collaborated on stories of hockey players you likely do not know. Ken wrote the book and Jeff provided the Foreword. ONE NIGHT ONLY is an account of 40 men that have appeared in just a single NHL game. The most famous, by far, is one Donald S. Cherry, who dressed for Boston in a playoff match at the Montreal Forum on Mar. 31, 1955. He later coached several more in the NHL and has now occupied your TV screen during the first intermission of Hockey Night In Canada for more than 30 years.

Others of relative note include Blair Mackasey, a right-shooting defenseman that made the Leafs out of training camp in 1976 and dressed for the ’76–77 season opener, in Denver, against the old Colorado Rockies (playing their first game since re–locating from Kansas City). Mackasey’s crosschecking penalty at 2:59 of the opening period allowed someone named Larry Skinner to score the Rockies’ first–ever goal. Blair never again saw the ice. And, I wonder if he knows (or cares) that I still have newspaper accounts and photos in a scrapbook from that game at McNichols Arena more than 40 years ago:

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ONE NIGHT ONLY is a great idea for a book… and well–written. It makes an easy Christmas gift.

The book is published by ECW Press (Toronto) and retails for $19.95 CAD.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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