This one was right out of a storybook. In fact, the epic game made me cry.
As a matter of fact, the storyline probably would be rejected by book editors as too unreal for publication, but it actually happened.
It all took place at Madison Square Garden on January 21, 1954 – the night of the most incredible brotherly reunion in hockey history. And when it was over, the arena on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets seemed to be trembling.
First the roots of this remarkable tale:
Center Max Bentley and his older brother by four years, left winger Doug, composed two-thirds of one of the best small trios in NHL history, along with the Chicago Blackhawks’ ‘Wee Willie’ Mosienko on the right side. Together, the threesome became the toast of Windy City fans in the years immediately after the Second World War despite their club’s affinity for the NHL cellar.
Natives of Delisle, Saskatchewan, the Bentleys were inseparable, or so it seemed, until November 1947 when Blackhawks boss Bill Tobin made what was then the biggest deal in NHL annals, dispatching Max and Cy Thomas to Toronto for five young players. The separation proved beneficial to Max, who helped the Maple Leafs win Stanley Cups in ’48, ’49 and ’51. Now on his own, Doug played well enough to eventually gain entry, along with Max, into the Hall of Fame, as did Mosienko.
But by 1951, Doug left the NHL to be player-coach of the Western League’s Saskatoon Quakers. By 1953, Max was ready to quit when Rangers GM Frank Boucher persuaded him to sign with his Blueshirts. Instantly he was a hit.
“Our town has its biggest hockey hero in years,” wrote columnist Jimmy Powers in The Daily News. “Max Bentley is an old pro who brings The Garden crowd to its feet every time he takes the disk in his own zone and starts down the ice.”
One Madison Square Garden official was so impressed, he collared Boucher and pleaded, “If Max is a sample of what one Bentley can do on that ice, if Doug can stand up, he must be better than most of these kids kids we’ve got.”
But Doug had only been playing part-time and doubted he could keep up with the NHL speed. Undaunted, Boucher kept nudging Max’s brother, cajoling him with cash.
“Frank offered me the biggest money I ever got in my life, even in my best days with the Blackhawks,” Doug said. “The money did it. That and the fact I knew I could help Max. I could assist him on the ice and help settle him off it.”
The reunion, on the night of Jan. 21, 1954, featured a visit by the Boston Bruins, who were running neck-and-neck with New York for the fourth and final playoff berth. Doug, who admitted to a nervous condition, allowed that coach Muzz Patrick made him even more jittery. “Muzz didn’t say a word about what he was going to do with me,” Doug said.
Patrick gambled by placing 34-year-old Edgar Laprade, normally a center, on the right wing. Like Doug, Edgar had been talked out of retirement by Boucher. But nobody was more uncertain than Doug, by then 37 and wishing he was back in Saskatchewan.
“I was afraid I’d make a fool of myself,” the elder Bentley said. “I was as nervous as a kitten … must have walked up and down the dressing room at least a hundred times.”
The 13,463 spectators were soon dazzled by the Bentleys footwork, stick-handling and passing. Doug opened the scoring at 12:29 of the first period, then Max set up Wally Hergesheimer for a power play goal followed by Doug’s feed to Paul Ronty who made it 3-0 for New York.
“It seemed every time we touched the puck, we did the right thing,” Doug said. “Once the people started to holler for us, I knew that was it. I knew we’d really go. I knew because right off the bat, I could tell that Max hadn’t forgotten any of his tricks or mine either.”
Nicknamed the ‘Dipsy Doodle Dandy From Delisle,’ Max was in mint condition. He and Doug crisscrossed a couple times en route to the Boston Blueline before Doug fed Max, who then beat goalie ‘Sugar’ Jim Henry for yet another goal.
When the brothers got back to the Rangers bench, Max draped his arm over his brother’s shoulder and said, “Same old Doug. You’re skating the same, handing off the same and fooling ’em the same.”
The final score was 8-3 for New York. Max and Doug had combined for eight points: Doug with one goal and three assists, and Max two goals and two assists. “It was like a dream,” Doug said.
After the game, Max sat in the dressing room with tears streaking down his face. “He’s crying for happiness,” Doug said. “He’s tickled because we finally played together … and so am I.”
Eventually, the scoring dried up for the Bentley’s down the stretch and the Rangers slipped behind the Bruins and out of the playoff picture. But for one magical night in New York, in their final season in the NHL, the Bentley brilliance was back.
I know this is not a fairy tale because I sat in the first row of the side balcony at the old Garden for that game.
And I did what I had never done before — and have never done since — at a hockey game. Like Max Bentley, I was crying for happiness!