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Tom Webster, former hockey player and coach, dies at 71

Tom Webster, from Kirkland Lake, Ontario, broke into the NHL as a member of the Boston Bruins,NICK UT/Associated Press/File 1989/Associated Press

Tom Webster, who led the New England Whalers to the World Hockey Association’s first title, died Friday.

He was 71.

The Carolina Hurricanes announced Mr. Webster’s death. The right-winger scored 53 goals and helped the franchise — then the Whalers, playing its home games in Boston and coached by former Boston University legend Jack Kelley — win the championship in 1972-73.

He later was head coach of the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, in addition to being an assistant coach in Carolina.

“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.”

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From Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Mr. Webster broke into the NHL as a member of the Boston Bruins, playing a handful of games in the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons.

He was claimed by the Buffalo Sabres in the expansion draft of 1970, then sent to the Detroit Red Wings, where he had a breakout season, tallying 30 goals and 37 assists in 78 games in 1970-71.

He played only 12 games for the Red Wings and Golden Seals the following season.

For the Whalers, he had 220 goals and 205 assists in 352 games in six seasons. Most of those games were played after the franchise moved to Hartford. He was inducted into the World Hockey Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

Mr. Webster was hired in 1986 to coach the Rangers but developed an inner-ear infection that left him unable to fly. He coached home games, with general manager Phil Esposito helping out on away games. After the bout with the infection resurfaced, 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.

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“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.”

Mr. 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.

When the Whalers left Hartford in 1997 and became the Carolina Hurricanes, Mr. Webster was an assistant coach.

“He would absolutely be the man who influenced me the most,” Paul Maurice, the Hurricanes first head coach, told the Winnipeg Sun earlier this season. Maurice is now head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. “Really, really intense guy but a big family guy, very emotional guy. ‘Systems.’ That was kind of the first time I heard of the word ‘systems,’ like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a plan here.’ ”

Mr. 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.

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“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.”