Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Max Bentley wins two Race Horses



Today I was reading through an old Hockey Digest from April 1979 (as I often do) and read about a story I’d heard before about Hall of Famer, Max Bentley. It was written in the magazine as follows;


“…one of the most famous stories in Maple Leaf Gardens history. During a 1952 game a well-to-do fan who had seats at the end of the Leaf bench promised Max a race horse if he scored on the next shift. The Leafs were losing 2-1 against Detroit, and there had been a delay because of an injury to Detroit goalie, Terry Sawchuk. “Max”, said the fan, who owned a hotel around the corner from the Gardens, “if you tie up the game on your next shift I’ll give you a race horse.” Max scored seconds later. “You got the horse,” hollered the fan, and shook Max’s hand. Later, a Gardens’ director heard the story and said, “If a fan can give you a horse, I can give you one too.” Max ran his two horses on different tracks in Winnipeg and Calgary before other owners bought them in claiming races. “I got enough money from them to make it all right,” he recalls.


A nice little yarn but did it really happen and if so, during which game did it take place? There is no way of verifying that the fan made this offer, but let’s assume that Bentley indeed did win a couple of horses. The question is when could this have happened? The things that can be checked are the facts. Let’s see what we have to go on.

1. The game was in 1952. Not sure if it was the end of 1951/52 or the beginning of 1952/53.
2. The game was against the Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens.
3. Max Bentley scored a goal to tie up a 2-1 game.
4. There was a delay for an injury to Terry Sawchuk.

Thanks to the magic of hockey-reference.com we can check game results from any season. For games with Detroit visiting Toronto that took place in 1952 there are six possible matches.

Jan. 12, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 3
Feb. 13, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Feb. 23, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Mar. 8, 1952 Toronto 6, Detroit 3
Oct. 22, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 4
Nov. 8, 1952 Toronto 3, Detroit 3

The story states that Bentley’s goal tied up a 2-1 game so at first glance the two Feb. 1952 matches can be ruled out as the Leafs scored only once. However often times when tales are passed along the first thing that is forgotten is the actual score, so we’ll have a look at those just in case. The Hockey Summary Project is another terrific site that has most game summaries of goals and assists through NHL history. There are holes in the research though, and the 1951/52 season is one of them. That’s when we go to Google News archives to find actual game reports and summaries. Here’s what I found for each possible game.

Jan. 12, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 3
Leafs got down 3-0 by the ten minute mark of the first period in this one before they began to chip away. The tying goal was notched by Sid Smith at 10:12 of the 2nd. Bentley did score in this one, but it was the 5-3 goal halfway through the 3rd. It’s likely not this game in the race horse tale.

Feb. 13, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Bentley did not score in this one.

Feb. 23, 1952 Toronto 1, Detroit 3
Once again, Bentley did not score.

Mar. 8, 1952 Toronto 6, Detroit 3
The only occasion in this game that Toronto scored a goal to tie Detroit was at 3:43 of the 2nd when Ted Kennedy tallied to make it 2-2. Bentley assisted on the 4-2 goal by Ray Timgren in the 3rd and scored 55 seconds later to make it 5-2. Although this game does have Leafs tying it at 2, it wasn’t Bentley so cannot be the race horse game.

Oct. 22, 1952 Toronto 5, Detroit 4
Detroit had a 4-2 lead going into the 3rd in this game before Gord Hannigan scored in the first minute of the 3rd from Howie Meeker and Bentley. Then at 9:59 of the final frame, Toronto ties it 4-4…on a goal from Max Bentley. He would also add a helper on Meeker’s winner four minutes later. Sure, the tying goal Bentley scored was 4-4 not 2-2, but so far this game is promising. And yes, Sawchuk was in net for Detroit however I can find no mention of an injury delay.

Nov. 8, 1952 Toronto 3, Detroit 3
Toronto twice tied this game, Bentley to make it 1-1 at 13:11 of the 1st period and George Armstrong to make it 2-2 in the 2nd. In my opinion, a fan making a brash offer of a race horse as reward for a tying goal would more likely do it in the midst of a two goal comeback in the 3rd period, not down 1-0 in the 1st stanza. To me, this means that the race horse tale took place in the prior meeting of the two clubs.

So, if we have to put a date on this classic tale I’d say it was Oct.22, 1952. Even though Bentley ties it to make the score 4-4 instead of 2-2, it’s the only game that otherwise matches the circumstances in the old story.

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