SUN Hockey Pool

Hot-line hero mourned

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:11 PM ET

He only played three games in the NHL, but Gerry Wilson’s contribution to professional hockey, especially in Winnipeg, runs much deeper.

Wilson, who passed away peacefully at his home, Tuesday, was the main reason Swedish stars Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson joined the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA in the mid-1970s.

A chance meeting between Wilson and Hedberg would produce one of the greatest lines in hockey history and help revolutionize the game.

In Sweden following his graduation from medical school at the University of Manitoba, Wilson spotted Hedberg playing for the school at which he was doing research.

“We went to watch his games,” Wilson’s widow, Helene, told the Sun, Wednesday. “Anders introduced him to Ulf, who played on a different team. We realized what great hockey players they were. That’s when my husband contacted the people in Winnipeg.”

Jets scout Billy Robinson flew to Sweden and was equally impressed.

Robinson convinced team management to take a chance on the Swedes, and Wilson convinced Hedberg and Nilsson to join the Jets, even though Hedberg had a better offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The two hooked up with Bobby Hull to form one of the most productive lines in pro hockey, helping the Jets win WHA titles in 1976 and 1978.

Their style also opened the door to the European influx of players and style that remains such an important part of the NHL today.

Until then, North American pro hockey was largely a rough-and-tumble game, while the Swedes were pure finesse. Today, the game is a hybrid of the two styles.

Born in Edmonton, Wilson was a junior star with the St. Boniface Canadiens.

A 6-foot-2, 200-pound centre, he went on to play with the Montreal Junior Canadiens and the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens.

During the 1956-57 Stanley Cup-winning season, Wilson suited up for three games for the NHL’s Canadiens. But his next two seasons were wiped out by knee injuries.

One last comeback attempt with the International League’s Minneapolis Millers lasted just two games.

Wilson turned his own frustrating experience with sports injuries into a career as an orthopedic surgeon, working for both the Jets and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

He leaves behind four children: sons Gerry, Jr., Carey, twin Geoffrey and Greg.

Carey is a former Canadian Olympian who enjoyed a lengthy NHL career, while his son, Gerry Wilson’s grandson, Colin, is a first-round draft pick who plays for the Nashville Predators.

Wilson was 73.


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