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June 16, 2013

Max Bentley: Dipsy Doodle Dandy

I recently profiled the greatest players in Chicago Blackhawks history. I really struggled with the omission of Max Bentley - the Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle. And I only left him off because half of his brilliant career came in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey as well as in Chicago.

One of the most exciting players in any era in the history of the National Hockey League was Max Bentley. He was nicknamed "The Dipsy Doodle Dandy" because of the way he zigged and zagged his way through an opposing team "like a scared jackrabbit." Several NHL old timers were quick to compare Wayne Gretzky upon his NHL debut to the electrifying Bentley. Others favor the modern day comparison of Denis Savard or Gilbert Perreault.

Although he was puny at just 5' 8" and 155 pounds, Bentley quickly learned to use his superior skating abilities to survive the rough and tough NHL. He was also brilliant with the puck. He could stickhandle through a maze of players at top speed - a true rarity in any era. He was a deft passer and had a laser like wrist shot.

Max and his brother Doug Bentley grew up on the family farm in Saskatchewan, working hard to complete the daily chores so that they could work even harder at the game they loved. It worked out well as both brothers had Hockey Hall of Fame careers.

Almost from the get-go the Bentley brothers took the Windy City by storm. Originally paired with Bill Thoms, the dynamic duo became the terrific trio once Bill Mosienko joined the Bentleys on the top line. Using their great speed and intricate passing plays, they became known as "The Pony Line." They patterned themselves after their heroes Frank Boucher and Bill and Bun Cook. Both the Pony Line and the Rangers "A Line" have been compared in modern terms to the great Soviet Red Army teams of the 1970s and 1980s.

Not including the two years he missed for military duty, Max enjoyed 5 seasons in Chicago. However it was his two year stint following WWII duties (1945-1947) that Max really asserted himself as one of the game's elite. Nicknamed the "Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle," Max won the Hart Trophy (1945-46), the Art Ross Trophy (1945-46 and 1946-47) and was voted to the first All-Star team (1945-46) and second All Star team (1946-47).

Despite the Pony Line's success, the Black Hawks were never able to acquire enough depth to become true contenders in the competitive 6 team NHL. So on November 4, 1947, they went looking for depth, and sacrificed Max Bentley to get it. In one of the biggest trades in all of hockey history the Hawks sent Bentley to the Toronto Maple Leafs for 5 players - an entire forward unit consisting of Gaye Stewart, Gus Bodnar and Bud Poile, plus defensive pairing Ernie Dickens and Bob Goldham.

Max was initially heartbroken about the trade, and NHL insiders didn't understand why the Leafs gave up such a big part of their team to get just the one player - even if it was the great Max Bentley. The trade would quickly backfire on the Hawks instead and stands as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. The Hawks floundered without Max, missing the playoffs for the next several years.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Max was a key player in three Stanley Cup championships (1948, 1949 and 1951). Playing on a much deeper team (Max had to share ice time with fellow centers Syl Apps - who retired in 1948 - and Teeder Kennedy), Max never posted the same offensive statistics during the regular season in Toronto. However come playoff time he was unstoppable - twice leading all scorers in assists and once in points.

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