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From the Archives: Delisle Dandy has Plenty Left

Over 70 years ago, Max Bentley was trying to decide whether or not continue his career at the grand old age of 32. He stuck around, and continued to thrive at an age few NHLers at the time were able to reach.

Joe Thornton right now is being confronted with the dilemma that puzzled a Maple Leafs Hall of Famer more than 70 years ago.

To retire or not to retire?

Jumbo Joe is wondering whether he has enough in his tank to try one more season with the Florida Panthers.

A good seven decades ago that was the issue with which Toronto's Hall of Famer Max Bentley wrestled. He endured a personal brain tug-of-war over retirement that captured the media's attention.

But first let me lay out the scenario.

After being traded from the Black Hawks to the Maple Leafs in November 1947, Bentley significantly helped the Queen City skaters to three Stanley Cups, 1948, 1949 and 1951.

"Max was a superb skater with the puck," wrote historian Andrew Podnieks, "and extremely quick with it, deking this way and that, fending off bigger men with his speed."

Nicknamed "The Dipsy Doodle Dandy From Delisle (Saskatchewan), Bentley returned for another Cup run during the 1951-52 season. But there were only two problems: 1. The Leafs were slipping and, 2. Max was getting old.

Myself being 19-years-old and as keen a Leaf loyalist as ever, I was aware of rumors that Max wanted to retire to his wheat fields in Delisle and resume farming life.

Equally concerned was Toronto Globe and Mail sports editor Jim Vipond who attended a Rangers-Leafs game at Maple Leaf Gardens at the start of December 1951.

It was a game that moved Vipond to write a column in The Globe with a double-headline: DELISLE DANDY HAS PLENTY LEFT. Plus: DON'T STOP NOW, MAXIE.

Vipond's column coincided with Toronto defeating New York and Bentley becoming the 20th player in the recorded statistical history of the NHL to score 200 or more goals.

"Now that he has tallied 200 times," wrote Vipond, "a big bull's eye in any hockey player's life, we trust he sets up another objective instead of moving into retirement.

"There's still plenty of good hockey left in the Delisle Dandy. But, after the Rangers game, he sat perspiring beside his locker, fondly clutching the puck with which he accounted for No. 200."

That was the good news. The bad news was that the Leafs struggled to score during the 1951-52 campaign. Still, they wound up in third place with 74 points thanks to Al Rollins' excellent goaltending.

Their record (29-25-16) put them only four points behind second place Montreal. They would meet first place Detroit in the first playoff round.

Vipond was right. Over a span of 69 games, Max tallied 24 goals, the most he ever recorded as a Leaf, along with 41 points.

I was so excited about Toronto's playoff prospects, I rounded up four other friends and we got tickets for Game Three of the semi-final with Detroit. Our car left Brooklyn at 3 a.m. and arrived at the Ford Hotel in Toronto at 5 p.m. the next day.

We had driven up the night of Game 2in Detroit -- the Red Wings had won the opener -- and by the time we had breakfast in Elmira, New York, we learned that Detroit had won Game 2, 1-0, on a goal by Johnny Wilson.

Being in Toronto for the first time was thrilling enough for me; especially when it came to watching a playoff game at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Unfortunately, Toronto lost the game, 6-2 and was swept out in Game 4. (Detroit then won four more in a row over Montreal for the Cup.)

Leafs boss Conn Smythe well-X-Rayed his team that previously had won four Cups in five years: "If a horse goes to the track too often, you don't get the best racing out of it," Smythe opined. "Our fellows have been whipped and whipped for a long time. A change of scenery would be part of the answer."

But Smythe did not include Bentley in any trade and Max was back for the 1952-53 season. "Hockey's main stem needs you, Maxie," said Jim Vipond.

Bentley agreed and gave it one more shot, wearing the Royal Blue and White Maple Leaf colors, but it was a disappointing year for all hands. Over the summer of 1953, Smythe sold Max Bentley to the Rangers.

Max played quarterback on the Blueshirts power play, tutored young talents such as Camille Henry and, all things considered, did well.

Bentley played in 57 games and totalled 14 goals and 32 points.

But New York missed the playoffs and that was Max Bentley's last hurrah in the NHL.

Even Max's journalistic champion, Jim Vipond, agreed to that.

I imagine that Joe Thornton would have as well.



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