Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Max Bentley : The End of the Line

As hockey fans, we can often recall a players first tour of duty in the National Hockey League. We may have followed his development through junior and, perhaps, time in the American Hockey League. Then, the euphoria of his donning an NHL sweater and providing evidence he deserves an extended stay in the NHL. Ultimately, due to age, injury or lack of production, every player is faced with the reality of retiring from the NHL.

The media usually addresses the retirement of an average player with a couple of lines - if he is lucky. Of course, a player with a higher stature receives more recognition when he leaves the big show. With this in mind, I thought we would examine the "end of the line" for one player from the Original Six era - Max Bentley.

Maxwell Herbert Lloyd Bentley was born on March 3, 1920 in Delisle, Saskatchewan. After spending a brief amount of time in the AHL (Providence) and the AHA (Kansas City Americans) during the 1940-41 season, Bentley was called-up by the Chicago Black Hawks. His brother, Doug Bentley, joined Chicago the previous year (1939-40). In his rookie campaign, Doug quickly earned the praise of manager Bill Tobin. Bentley had some advise for his boss "If you think I'm good, you should see my younger brother Max - he's twice as good as I am."

The Bentley brothers made their mark during the 1942-43 season. Doug lead the league in goals (33) and points (73). Max finished 3 points behind (70) Doug and he won his first piece of NHL hardware - the Lady Byng Trophy.

Following the 1942-43 season, Max Bentley was absent from the NHL untill 1945-46. He was engaged in military service, as were a number of other NHL rank and file. Upon his return, he would partner up with Doug and Bill Mosienko to form the Pony Line. Max would lead all NHL scorers in 1946 (61pts.) and 1947 (72pts.). In 1946 he captured the Hart Trophy. His 3 Stanley Cups (1948,1949 & 1951) came following a November 2, 1947 trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Doug (L) & Max (R) Bentley
 Max Bentley was a talented skater and when combined with his stick handling skills, it produced an artistic vision on the ice. Bentley's nickname - "Dipsy-Doodle-Dandy" - was based on his brilliant ability to control the puck and out maneuver his opponents. Bentley maintained he developed his wrists by milking cows on the farm in Delisle. His shot was quick and accurate.

Bentley gained the reputation of being a worrier and he was concerned about catching a rare disease. After the 1950-51 campaign, Bentley's game suffered from a  lack of scoring and injuries. In August 1953, he was traded to the New York Rangers. In 57 games he managed to produce only 14 goals. In 1954-55, Bentley refused to report to the Rangers training camp. At this point, his contract was returned to the Maple Leafs. Conn Smythe, the supreme ruler of all things Blue & White, had no success convincing Bentley to return to the fold. Smythe placed him on waivers, but no team was tempted to cough-up the $15,000 waiver price.

Why was Bentley so determined not to return to the NHL? As it turned out, his heart was else where - Max Bentley's only desire was to return home. His brother Doug, at this juncture, was the player-coach of the Saskatoon Quakers of the Western Hockey League. It was the intention of Max to be reunited with his brother and play for the Quakers.

Bentley negotiated his release from Toronto and was on the hook to Smythe for $7500. It was first necessary for Smythe to offer Bentley to the other 5 clubs for the lower sum. Since Bentley's intentions were known, no club bothered to pursue his services. During this time, Bentley was placed under suspension by Toronto. On October 29, 1954, after his cheque cleared, Bentley's suspension was lifted clearing the way for him to join Doug and the Quakers.

Max Bentley's NHL career had come to the end of the line.

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