Tom Webster, the former NHL and WHA forward who went on to coach the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, died Friday. He was 71.
The Carolina Hurricanes announced Webster’s death. Webster scored 53 goals and helped the franchise — then the New England Whalers — win the World Hockey Association’s first title in 1972-73. He also was an assistant coach in Carolina, and son-in-law L.J. Scarpace was the team’s video coach.
“Tommy was down here a lot, over the past couple of years, just visiting,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “He talked to our group a lot, just telling old stories. He was a great man, that’s the best way to describe him.”
From Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Webster had 33 goals and 42 assists in 102 career NHL games with Boston, Detroit and California. He had 30 goals and 37 assists in 78 games for Detroit in 1970-71, then played only 12 games for the Red Wings and Golden Seals the following season.
Webster then jumped to the WHA, where he had 220 goals and 205 assists in 352 WHA games in six seasons with the Whalers. He was inducted into the World Hockey Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
Webster was hired in 1986 to coach the Rangers, but developed an inner-ear infection that left him unable to fly. He resigned in April 1987.
He took over the Kings in 1989, and led them to their first division title — topping the Smythe in 1991. He was 115-94-31 in three seasons with the team.
“It is very sad news for our organization,” Kings President Luc Robitaille said. “Coach Webster was a great man and my head coach for three seasons. He was also a tremendous part of a lot of the success our team enjoyed when Wayne Gretzky was playing in Los Angeles in particular.”
Webster also was known for his temper. In November 1991, he was suspended 12 games and fined $10,000 for throwing his stick and hitting referee Kerry Fraser in the foot, drawing the largest suspension ever for an NHL coach.
Webster coached three minor league or junior teams titles, co-coaching Adirondack in the American Hockey league in 1980-81, then directing Tulsa to the Central Hockey League crown in 1983-84 and Windsor to the junior Ontario Hockey League championship in 1987-88 He also was an assistant coach with Philadelphia and worked an amateur scout for Calgary.
“Webby was one of the best hockey men that our game has ever seen and I am honored to have known him,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. “More importantly, Webby was even a better man.”