When the Red Wings’ Lefty Wilson Played For the Other Team

One of the great characters in Red Wings history is Ross “Lefty” Wilson, a former minor league goalie who from 1950 until 1982 served as the team’s trainer.

In the days before NHL teams carried a second goalie, several NHL trainers actually served as practice goalies and were sometimes called to play between the pipes on an emergency basis.

Such was the case for Lefty Wilson who did it in three games. But believe it or not, the trainer was asked to be a “traitor” on two of those occasions.

On October 10, 1953 the trainer replaced an injured Terry Sawchuk in the third period and for 16 minutes he shut out the Habs. But three years later, Wilson was called upon to serve as goalie for Red Wing opponents.

On January 22, 1956 the Red Wing employee was asked to stand in for Toronto goalie Harry Lumley who was injured during the contest. Wilson, who earlier in the game had stood at the Detroit bench, went into the Leafs’ locker room, put on the pads and slipped on the dreaded Maple Leaf sweater. Even though Detroit held onto a 4-1 victory, for 13 minutes Lefty shut down the likes of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.

On December 29, 1957, the same day the Detroit Lions won their last world championship, Wilson filled in for Boston’s Don Simmons who was hurt early in the contest. The chubby trainer stood on his head as he played brilliantly while only allowing 1 goal in 52 minutes as the teams finished with a 2-2 tie.

You better believe that when Wilson went into the Detroit locker room after the game, the barbs really flew back and forth.

In hockey circles, Lefty Wilson is better known for the innovative goalie mask that he created for Red Wing goaltending legend Terry Sawchuk for the start of the 1962-1963 season. Just three years earlier, Montreal goaltender Jacques Plante became the first Original Six goalie to use a mask.

Wilson’s innovative but crude mask was made with three sheets of Plexiglas and it looked like it belonged on a monster. However it did the job and Lefty then started his own little side business making the same mask for a number of goaltenders at a cost of $35 a piece.

Wilson was unceremoniously released by the Ilitch regime in 1982 after serving the franchise for three decades. He passed away in 2002 at age 83.

6 replies on “When the Red Wings’ Lefty Wilson Played For the Other Team

  • Mark Beausoleil

    I got to know Lefty from playing at the Olympia every week for my teams practice for years. I was a goalie and he made me a mask which I wore for the next 15 years. I started out with a Jacques Plante mask wich broke from a slapshot. Lefty fixed that one for a while and broke again. It really hurt both times. So he made a Sawchuck mask for me. I got Terry to sign it along with Lefty, Howe, Lindsey, Ullman, Crozier (later), Delvechio and some others. Also got Glenn Hall, Johnny Bauer, “The Gumper” Worsley and Rocket Richard. They’ed play the Wings after our practices. I have that mask in a glass case now. But Lefty was special. He sharpened my goalie skates like a filett knife. He’d tell jokes while sharpenning and tell wild Stanley Cup stories. My point is, I am proud and lucky to have known Lefty in that way. He introduced me to all the players. What a great bunch of guys. I have a lot of autographed sticks, skates, pucks, sets of gloves and jerseys. All signed by one or more Red Wings. It’s worth a fortune. All because of my friend Lefty Wilson. He’s one of my best memories of my hockey years. Rest in Peace my friend, in Hockey Heaven. You’ll alays be a part of Detroit and the Red Wings. I’ll never forget you. Thanks for the memories. Feelin pretty sad.

  • Harry Schuler

    In the late ’50’s Lefty experimented with mixing up his own version of an “energy” drink. It was a mixture of tea and honey. There was an article about it in a Detroit paper.
    Saw Lefty play goal at Olympia.

  • Harry Schuler

    In late 50’s Lefty mixed up own “energy” drink -honey and tea for Wings. Article in Det. paper. Saw him in goal at Olympia

  • Greg MacDonald

    The whole hockey community is one of class in my opinion.
    Early 80s i befriended Eddie Mepham long time goal judge at Maple Leaf Gardens.Once the Captain of the Toronto Marlies in his hay-day.
    I went with him to a game-watched him at work opposite Grant Eason-other end.Ed liked to work the Carleton Street end so he could duck out and be on subway before 3 stars.
    Great guy introduced me to others-toured Gondola and Press Box.Dressing rooms.Met King and actor Larry Mann two of his cronies.Ed passed in 84.

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