The Bentleys’ Old Man
You’ve heard of Max, with the Leafs, and Doug, with the Hawks. Now meet Bill, flinty chieftain of the hockey-mad Bentley clan
IN THE National Hockey League it has long been considered a debate-worthy parados that two of the league’s more fragile forward: —159½-pound Max Bentley and his 158-pound brother Doug possess two of hockey’s most damaging shots and hence have been two of the NHL’s most consistent scorers.
Curiously enough, it is to a man who has never seen either Bentley play in the NHL that it is necessary to apply for the answer.
“It’s milkin’ them damn cows,” opines 75-yearold Bill Bentley, sire of the amazing hockey-playing Bentley clan, ensconced beside a potbellied stove in his store back in Delisle, Sask. "Milkin’ builds up their wrists.”
Thanks to his wrists, a dazzling shift and a rabbitlike turn of speed, the younger of the Bentleys, 28-year-old Max, has become slightly more famous than his brother Doug, who is 32 and nominally possesses a better record. The source of the younger Bentley’s extra notoriety was the deal in which Toronto’s Conny Smythe swapped a complete forward line and two defensemen to get him away from the Chicago Black Hawks, last year.
The NHL’s “most valuable player” during his previous season with Chicago when he played on a line that included Doug and a non-Bentley named Bill Mosienko— Max promptly justified Smythe’s gamble by doing more than his share to help the Leafs win their second Stanley Cup in a row. He was the fifth man on Leaf power plays and he was frequently the pay-off man. He didn’t score as many goals as he’d rung up for Chicago (with whom he had won the NHL scoring championship two years in succession) but he scored more vital goals— winning goals and tying goals.
The performance Bentley Minor turned in for Toronto took on added lustre from the fact that sceptics had predicted only disaster would ensue if brother Max were separated from brother Doug. And, shorn of his pivot, left-winger Doug did his bit to confound the prophets by smoothly switching to centre position for Chicago and finishing third in NHL scoring—three points up on kid-brother Max. Altogether Doug has been the NHL’s AllStar left-winger three times, Max its All-Star centre once.
Max and Doug are merely two of an ice-going clan which also includes Wyatt (called Scoop) who is playing for Spokane in the Pacific Coast League this season; Roy, who is
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coaching Edmonton Juniors; Reg, at right wing for the Saskatoon Quakers; and Jack, the eldest, and now admittedly grown a bit past his playing prime. These are just one generation; for Roy’sson Bev, with the Regina Caps in the Western Canada Senior League, is already performing in a manner to suggest hockey has just nicely begun to hear from the Bentleys of Delisle.
And don’t forget the girls, the seven sisters to the six brothers. They’ve gone all feminine now—married and scattered all over the place— but according to their father the girls once comprised the worst threat the Bentley All Stars faced, as swift on skates as the boys. “The girls had a hockey team when they were kids and they could beat the blisters off the boys nine times out of ten,” says Father Bill Bentley.
And, whatever you do in assessing the Bentley clan, don’t forget Father Bill.
Bill Bentley, who turned 75 last August, is a slender, svirv, sparkling
man with a vigor few men of 5 possess. He loves to sit on a small tabl against the wall at the back of hi gents’ furnishings store on Delisle’ main street and pass the time of da; with his friends. A brown felt ha usually is perched on the back of hi head and from time to time he reache up to adjust it, invariably leaving it a exactly the same precarious angle.
The Bentley clan’s septuagenariai sire wears glasses only for reading (“These consarned things don’t fit me,’ he says, producing a pair. “1 sits or the glasses I do like and I breaks ’em These damned things!”) And he has hi: own teeth. (“I went to the doc one tirm in 1941 because I was dizzy sometime: and he X-rays my teeth, 10 plates, bul it wasn’t my teeth at all; it was some thing settled in my stomach, like a cold. I got my own teeth.”) His prominent nose and high cheekbone:are two characteristics that have been handed down to his boys, all of whom bear a striking resemblance to one, another and to their father.
The Bentley skating prowess is alsrj directly inherited. A proficient speed skater in his youth in the States.
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Father Bill still recalls with a not particularly modest twinkle in his small, close-set eyes that he was probably as good as anybody in the world. This draws hoarse guffaws from the hot-stove hecklers in his store, but Bill insists he once beat the great Norval Baptie, one of the greatest figure skaters and speed skaters of all time.
“He was born in a blizzard and raised in our town,” says Bill. “He was a pretty good speed skater until I beat him and then lie threw his speed skates away and became a figure skater.”
The family was always sceptical that Dad had ever seen Baptie until a few years ago when Doug came across a picture of Baptie in an old Chicago Stadium program. He brought it home, covered Baptie’s name and asked his dad to identify the picture. Bill did.
Because beloved skating, Bill bought the kids skates as soon as they could walk. “Max and Doug never saw me skate,” he says. “The last time I skated I dressed up like a woman right here in Delisle and at a carnival I tickled old Bill Loucks under the chin.” W. J. Loucks was a Conservative Member of Parliament in the R. B. Bennett Government.
“We always had a rink for the kids in the back yard.” recalls Bill, but it wasn’t skating alone that made the boys good hockey players. It was the cows.
“Listen, I’ll tell you I’ve kept my arms in shape milkin’ those things. Looka my wrists. Of course, they’re nothin’ now to what they were when I was a young buck, chasin’ cattle three or four miles, milkin’ four and five and six of ’em. Say, I could throw myself around the hayloft rafters from milkin’ those cows. I can’t do that today, of course, but l got pretty good wrists for an old gent. Same with Max. I keep read in’ about that wrist shot of his, the way he can snap a puck into the goal, an’ I’m here to tell you that’s from milkin’ cows.
“We haven’t any cows any more,” he explains. “I held on to ’em for a long spell and my wife was always after me. ‘How long are you gonna keep this up?’ she kept askin’ me. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m gonna keep it up.’ She gets me down to two and they were the dirtiest cows and I usta get dirty milkin’ em. I got sick of it myself finally, always cleanin’ up, so I said to her: ‘Listen, I’m all through with this cow stuff.’ And I was, too. I went downtown to Tom and sold ’em for $200. 1 guess I keep clean without ’em but my wrists ain’t what they usta be.”
The Bentley clan bails from Yorkshire, where Bill was born Aug. 15, 1873, one of a family of six. The family emigrated in 1882 and settled at Pembina, N.D., just across the Manitoba border. When Bill was 20 he married Mathilda Wagner, who was 17
then and is 72 now. Bill had a livery barn there and he recalls that there were 22 saloons and a fort in the town.
He tells about it: “There are 22
saloons, see? All right, we get prohibition. In no time 150 blind pigs spring up in the town. All the young guys like myself want to get out of that kind of a town. All right, before we pull out of there the soldiers get sore about somethin’, I can’t even remember what, and they burned that fort down one night; yessir, burned it right down. All right, we chartered a 33-freight car train and the railway threw in a sleeper. We load our cattle and horses and furniture onto that train and we come out here to Saskatchewan. This is 1903.”
Bill and Mathilda had five children by the time they reached Saskatchewan. Did they settle at Delisle? “DelisIe!”exelaimsBill Bentley, “There was no Delisle. There wasn’t a mark on the land, man!”
The Bentleys homesteaded in Township 34, Range 8 West, 3rd Region in Saskatchewan, recalls Bill, and the closest civilization was Saskatoon, where 125 people had settled. Bill went to Saskatoon in 1904 to open a real-estate business. He moved back to Delisle in 1909, a year after the railroad came through. He built a frame building there where he sold harnesses and farm implements, in partnership with bis brother Martin, now dead, and by 1912 the business had expanded, as this advertisement in the Dec. 6, 1912, edition of the Delisle Advocate proclaims:
Real Estate, Loans and Insurance
We have just received a . . . full
line of the . . .
Latest Cuts and Colors
MENS SUITS AND OVERCOATS
Harness Repairing and Oiling
“The place was burned down on the 19th day of March, 1919, in a blizzard,” recalls Bill. “It was the only blizzard we had that winter.”
Bill has never minded the winters on the Canadian Prairies. “Not as bad as North Dakota, anyway. I remember back in 1903, just after we came up here, I wrote to Judge Kneeshaw, one of the oldest judges in the State of North Dakota, tellin’ him the weather wasn’t bad and he wrote me back sayin’ you're lyin’, Bill. I didn’t like that. I took the letter over to Bob McIntosh in the Dominion Land Office and I said, ‘Looka here, Bob, I don’t like this letter. I want you to swear out in a letter to the Judge that I wasn’t lyin’.’ So Bob did.
“I had to go to Saskatoon so I decided to take his letter with me,” Bill relates. “It was the ninth day of November, 1903, and a little blizzard
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o road in those
jw, 1 was goin’ Then it started was blowin’ and , four feet of snow, you see, and we had .»ne for 3(> hours. When we got to Saskatoon 1 just reached into my pocket and took out Bob’s letter and tore it the hell up. But the weather’s good most of the time.” The Village of Delisle, about 35 miles southwest of Saskatoon, today
has a population of 450. For 10 years the sports pages across Canada have been making it famous in a backhanded sort, of way, never telling very much about it but always working in the name when they’re talking about the Bentleys. Delisle is not unlike scores of other little prairie towns. The elevators of the Saskatchewan Wheat Bool loom no higher here and on a hot., still afternoon in summer the dust eddies up from the main street with the same lifelessness and aimlessness as in any sweltering plains community.
I n the wintertime the snow is no deeper nor the crackling dry air, that makes the white smoke rise straight up from t he chimney tops into the clear blue sky, no colder.
On a white frame one-story store in Delisle there is no sign over the door and the windows bear no painted inscriptions, but everybody knows that this is Bill Bentley’s. Here, between the long parallel counters which line the scrubbed wooden floors and bracket the potbellied stove near the back, Bill Bentley has been in business since
shortly after his original store burned in 1919. selling gents’ furnishings, boots and shoes, fire insurance and real estate. For years the store did harness repairs and oiling, too, but that hasn’t been worth while since the farms around became mechanized.
During the day the folks drop in to talk to Bill, folks like Tom Robson, the butcher and grocer next door, Egot Carlsen, a Swedish farmer who lost a front tooth and has never bothered getting it replaced, Bill Orchard, whose garage is a block down the street, and Harry Gardner, publisher of the Delisle Advocate. On Mondays through the winter they gather at the back of the store around the stove to talk about the week-end exploits of Doug and Max, or Saturday night’s game at Saskatoon.
During such earnest sessions the arrival of a customer who really wants to buy something in the store often bothers Bill. The customer will stand halfway down the store at the counter and Bill will stop in the middle of a sentence from time to time and cast an annoyed glance at him. Finally, if the customer refuses to go away, Bill will clear his throat, adjust his hat and say with innocent interest: “Ah, did
you want somethin’?”
Saturday nights in the winter, of course, everyone in Delisle listens to the NHL hockey broadcast from Toronto, although there is no central listening post. Bill Bentley and his wife hear the games at home, while Mom Bentley relaxes from her housework and her correspondence—for her scattered family keeps her writing four or five letters every day of her life. The Bentleys have never seen their sons play professional hockey. Bill planned to make a trip to Chicago a year ago to see his first NHL game, “But I caught the consarned flu and, besides, the boys were split up.”
When spring comes and the hockey season ends, the Bentley brood arrives home every year for a tremendous turkey dinner provided by Mom and after that one blowoff they settle into the routine farming life. At the dinner the hockey-playing sons get together for the first time in six months to talk shop, to listen to Max’s report on the play-ofT exploits of the Maple Leafs, Doug’s disclosures about life under Coach Charlie Conacher at Chicago, Scoop’s account of hockey in sun-baked Hollywood, Reg’s season with the Quakers and Roy’s problems as a coach in Alberta.
They go home every spring rather than settle in any of the cities in which they play hockey because, primarily, they are farmers who like the land. The two youngest, Doug and Max, own and operate a deep-freeze locker plant in Delisle that services farmers for 50 miles around and the other four boys operate farms in the neighboring district.
The Brothers Bentley certainly don’t come home for adulation because there is no adulation for the famous hockeyplaying clan in Delisle. The kids there like them, of course, but they don’t trail in their wake and nobody dashes across the street to clutch them by the lapels because they’re hockey stars. The Bentleys attract far less attention in Delisle than they do in Chicago or Toronto, because in Delisle they're simply a long-established family like many another family in the quiet little farming community.
“People are used to them,” says Bill Bentley. “Everybody here’s used to ’em, except their Mom, who’d like to see ’em here all the time. She’s always afraid one of them’s gonna be hurt.
although you’d never guess it, talkin’ to her. She talks more’n I do.”
None of his sons has Bill’s flamboyancv, although they have his physical appearance: slim, wiry, flat-bellied, hawk-faced. Max and Doug are amiable and unaffected but they are considerably more reserved than their father. They laugh a lot with him but they seldom enter the conversation unless Bill turns to them for confirmation of one of his own thoughts. To all appearances the family gets along together exceptionally well and each takes a great pride in the others.
“We Did All Right”
When Doug, now 32, first joined the Black Hawks in the 1939-40 season, the hockey writers wrote glowingly of his skating ability. “If you think I’m fast,” Doug used to tell them, a little self-consciously, “wait’ll you see my brother Max.” And last summer at Delisle Max readily agreed that he’d never have caught on in the NHL had it not been for Doug’s help and guidance.
“Of course,” he added, “if Jane had been a boy, she’d have been better than any of us. Reg should have stayed in the NHL longer, too. He was with us a year, but he wouldn’t bear down. He didn’t care enough about it. Scoop’s
real good, too, but he’s a little older than the rest of us now.” The Bentleys, obviously, are unlike a lot of large families that constantly bicker within themselves, albeit they'll tolerate no criticism from outsiders.
The depression and the seven-year drought hit the Bentley clan hard, as it did every family in Saskatchewan, but Father Bill says nobody’s stomach ever was empty.
“1 lost a lot of money during those years but we always had enough to eat. We had cattle and hogs and we always managed to raise enough vegetables to look after them and ourselves,” he says. “And we weren’t cold.
“Listen, I’m gonna tell you a story. We had a house 42 feet long and 16 feet wide. It was a frame house with four plies of lumber and six plies of building paper. Outside it was stripped with building paper, then a ply of lath and plaster, then a ply of stripping and so on for 10 plies. Say, we had two stoves in that house and, do you know, we only needed one of ’em? We did all right.”
The Bentleys of Delisle are still doing all right. And it isn’t over yet. From his 13 children, Bill has realized 21 grandchildren and who’s to say that the sports pages haven’t just begun to write about the most famous hockey family in the world? ★