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From the Archives: The Day Max Bentley Joined the Toronto Maple Leafs

A young Stan Fischler remembers the day his favorite NHL player joined his favorite NHL team and how Max Bentley became a big contributor for the Leafs.

How neat is this:

The Hockey News is celebrating its 75th birthday and it's almost 75 years since what – at the time – was the greatest day of my young life.

November 2, 1947, to be exact.

That was the day that Maxwell Herbert Lloyd (Max) Bentley became a Maple Leaf. My hero on my team!

At age l5, I was easily the A-1-Yankee-Doodle-Ipsy-Pipsy most devoted Toronto fan in the borough of Brooklyn. (Don't bother checking, just believe me!)

This was my fifth year rooting for Conn Smythe's sextet. I started with the un-real, 1942 playoff-Cup-Comeback and never stopped. (I get hoarse just thinking about it.)

By 1946, I was subscribing to the Globe and Mail. Every single day, I eagerly opened the mailbox, pulled out the paper, and drank the literary juice being squeezed out of the typewriters.

Jim Coleman's column came first 'cause he was so darn funny. Then I'd get serious, reading (sports editor) Tommy Munns, Jim Vipond and Al Nickleson just to name a few of my favorite scribes on the Leafs beat.

What a joy to read about (goalie) Turk Broda, (captain) Syl Apps, the Gold Dust Twins on defense – Jim Thomson-Gus Mortson – and the best bodychecking forward in history, Wild Bill Ezinicki.

My precious Leafs – not yours – had upset heavily-favored Montreal in the

1947 Final. Now it was time to defend the title. But I knew – and more importantly Conn Smythe – knew there was an issue.

Beyond the immortal Apps and semi-immortal Ted (Teeder) Kennedy at center, coach Hap Day needed one more pivot. Gus Bodnar was okay but not OK enough.

"Strength down the middle is what can get us another Cup," Smythe asserted; and I believed him. (Then again, I believed every single word the Little Major said.)

Next came the late October rumors that Smythe was talking trade with Chicago. "Connie's eye is on Max Bentley," was the word on Rue De Rumeur.

That I couldn't believe. No way. No way, we get Max Bentley.

We're talking about the NHL's best center; the leading scorer; the guy with the best nickname in hockey – The Dipsy Doodle Dandy From Delisle.

Smythe would have to give up half a team for Maxie.

And then he did it. Not really half a team, but almost.

How about this: one entire forward line that was so good that it even had a name, "The Flying Forts" – center Gus Bodnar, flanked by Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile. Each starred on the '47 Cup-winners.

But, wait: that's not all.

Smythe added two up-and-coming defensemen, Bob Goldham and Ernie Dickens. In addition to Bentley, the Black Hawks tossed in Cy Thomas,a minor league forward of absolutely no consequence.

It was so big a deal that the normally conservative NHL President Clarence Campbell allowed that he was "astonished" that Smythe had pulled it off.

Clarence may have been astonished but Stanley – as in me and The Cup – was ecstatic. I couldn't wait until the next Globe arrived so I could clip all the stories and paste them in my scrapbook; which, by the way, I still have.

The Globe gave it a full page with a sentimental sidebar: BENTLEY BOYS' DAD REGRETS BREAKUP OF PARTNERSHIP.

Actually, it was a sad story because Max and older brother, Doug, had been linemates since they were knee-high to a grasshopper on the family's Saskatchewan farm.

"If I were them," said their dad, Bill Bentley, "I wouldn't have broken up."

Meanwhile, I was doing cartwheels of joy in front of my little Philco radio that somehow picked up Foster Hewitt's Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts. (My mom and dad thought I'd been sniffing airplane glue.)

For me – not to mention Major Smythe – it became the most superb trade ever made. Paced by Maxie, the Leafs became what Conn called "My greatest team."

Toronto finished first and – with consummate ease – won its second straight Stanley Cup; the first of what would be three titles led by The Dipsy Doodle Dandy From Delisle.

As wonderful as the trade was – and continued to be – it did have a sad aftermath. With Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Nick Metz and Bentley, Smythe boasted one of the very best examples of "Strength Down The Middle."

Captain Syl enjoyed a fabulous regular season. On the final weekend of the campaign, he passed the 200-goal mark and looked good enough to play at least another couple of years.

"I wanted Syl to continue," said Smythe, "because he still was a major asset to the team." (So did I want more of Apps since he had become my role model.)

But a major miscommunication took place behind the scenes involving Apps and Kennedy as well as the club's future captaincy.

The details are irrelevant; what matters is that Syl announced his retirement – a major mistake – and Kennedy was the obvious replacement.

When the miscommunication was unraveled, Smythe tried to persuade Apps to return as well as retain the captaincy. Kennedy seconded that motion.

But it was too late to reverse the decisions – especially in Apps' viewpoint, and Syl left the only NHL team on which he ever played. In addition, the excellent Nick Metz also said he was calling it a career.

Smythe did his best to compensate for the losses and completed a trade with the Rangers in which he received gritty center Cal Gardner and rugged defenseman Bill Juzda.

Minus Apps and Metz, the Leafs were hardly the same team. They finished the 1948-49 season in fourth place under the .500 mark and just barely squeezed into the playoffs.

Having secured a post-season berth they went on to win an unprecedented third consecutive Cup with Kennedy and Bentley leading the offense. Without question, the addition of Maxie enabled the Leafs to win yet another Cup in 1951.

Was it the greatest trade in NHL history? For my money it was, because almost 75 years later, I still get goose bumps re-reading those stories in The Globe!



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