September 07, 2015

Cliff Pennington

How does a guy score career pro totals of 358 goals, 676 assists and 1034 points in 766 games not stick in the National Hockey League?

That is the riddle of Cliff Pennington, skinny center with fair hair out of Winnipeg. Throughout the 1960s he was a hired gun in the Eastern and International minor leagues, putting up ridiculous scoring totals. He also represented Canada at the 1960 Olympics, winning a silver medal.

Pennington had a howitzer of a shot and was an entertaining playmaker. He played both center and right wing, and often played the point on the power play. Glen Skov, his first pro hockey coach said "His puckhandling is brilliant . . . he shoots hard . . . he is a good skater . . . he's a heady player who does not give the puck away." He also was one of the most gentlemanly players ever, rarely taking more than a few minor penalties in a season.

But Cliff Pennington never could stick in the National Hockey League.

In his first pro-season he led the entire EPHL in scoring, and was called up to the Montreal Canadiens for four games, scoring one goal. Though it looked like they had a real prospect on their hands, the Canadiens traded him to Boston with Terry Gray for Willie O'Ree and Stan Maxwell.

Pennington would play a season and a half with the Bruins. In 1961-62 he had a relatively good season, setting up 32 goals although scoring only nine of his own. He would finish second in Rookie of the Year balloting to Montreal's Bobby Rousseau.

Pennington upped the pace with seven goals and seventeen points in 27 games in year two, but was demoted to the minor leagues, never return to the NHL again. It seems he lost his third line center job with the Bruins to Forbes Kennedy.

Pennington's hockey career ended in Florida. He remained there and helped grassroots hockey grow at all levels.

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