Sunday, June 22, 2014

Les Binkley; 14-year old Allan Cup Rookie

Les Binkley was a fine goaltender of the first expansion era of the NHL. After having played 12 quality seasons in the high minor leagues with teams from Baltimore and Charlotte to Cleveland and San Diego, he finally got his shot at the NHL thanks to the 1967 expansion to twelve teams. Drafted by Pittsburgh at the age of 31, Binkley played almost 200 games over five seasons with the Penguins before jumping to the WHA in 1972. He wound down his career at the age of 39 after four years with the Ottawa/Toronto franchise.

Amazingly, Binkley got his start in high-level hockey way back in 1951 at the age of 14. As a member of his hometown Junior B Owen Sound Mintos, he was asked to join the senior Owen Sound Mercurys on their quest for the Alan Cup. He travelled and practiced with the team that included two ex-NHLers (Jack Ingoldsby and Pat McReavy) as well as former AHL scoring leader Tom Burlington.

In Stan and Shirley Fischler's 1971 book "Up From The Minor League of Hockey", Binkley describes how he actually got the call to play one of the important Allan Cup playoff matches;

"As things turned out, one of the teams we faced in the playoff was from Sarnia, Ontario (The Sailors). Well we were in Sarnia at the time, and I was walking around the town with some of the men on the club. It was then that I got the shock of my young life: the coach said he wanted me to play goal that night because the regular goalie (Bob Gillson) was sick.  Well, when I heard that I got good and nervous, and by the time I got down to the rink that night I was so nervous I couldn't even put my gear on straight. After all, it's all right to practice against Seniors, and it's fine to play well against kids your own age, but this was the Allan Cup playoffs. Somehow I managed to get out on the ice and I played as well as I could, but we lost 5-2."

The Society for International Hockey Research database does indeed show Binkley having played a game at age 14 during this Allan Cup run, but it lists him having yielded eight goals, not five. I found a google news score of a game from March 31, 1951 in which Sarnia beat Owen Sound by a score of 8 to 5. Anyway you look at it, a 14-year old playing with and against ex-pros is extremely impressive. Binkley's Owen Sound Mercurys went on to capture the Allan Cup in 1951 with a small contribution from a 14-year old goaltender.

A still youthful (20-yrs old) Binkley playing for Charlotte of the EHL

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