MONTREAL - Elmer Benning gave his heart and soul to the Canadiens for 47 years of his life.
He started his career as a Habs scout in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1971 due to a lack of coverage in the Western leagues. The Muenster, SK native was a firefighter in Edmonton at the time, a profession he in which he continued working until 1993 - all the while searching for new and young talent for Montreal after his day job at the fire station.
Canadiens assistant general manager Trevor Timmins got to work with Benning for 17 seasons.
"It was a privilege for me and all the members of the organization who got the opportunity to work with Elmer Benning," expressed Timmins. "He had great hockey knowledge, but he was also a first-class gentleman. In terms of being a gentleman, we could put him in the same boat as Jean Beliveau."
Throughout his 78 years, Benning touched the lives of many people, including Timmins'.
"He was a passionate and humble man. He was an excellent husband for Liz, a good father for his kids and an exceptional grandfather," outlined Timmins, who's in his 24th season in the NHL. "He wasn't just a scout for us, he was a member of the family. He was like a grandfather to me."
Benning's funeral took place on January 4 in St. Albert, AB, and Timmins and general manager Marc Bergevin were there to pay their respects to the Benning family.
NOTE: This article first appeared on canadiens.com on January 29, 2019 and is being republished ahead of the NHL Draft.
His role in picking Price
As the scout covering the WHL, Benning certainly had a key role in the decision to select Carey Price with the fifth overall pick at the 2005 Draft.
Remember that the season before that Draft was a lockout year in the NHL.
As such, the order for the 2005 edition was determined on July 22, 2005 by way of a special lottery. A total of 48 balls were in the mix representing all of the NHL's 30 teams at the time. Some teams got three balls, some two and some only had one, and the weighting for each team was determined by the standings in the 2003-04 season and draft picks from previous years. The Canadiens only had one ball in the running, but that still netted them the fifth overall pick at the Draft.
The Habs set their sights on a certain Carey Price, but according to Timmins, it was still one of the more difficult drafts for those at the table.
"You have to understand that the year of that Draft, no team knew where they would be picking because of the lockout. There was a lottery to determine the order for the 30 teams. The number of players we had on our list was higher than any other year. For example, last season we picked third, so we had a list of around eight players we were looking at. But that year, we had to keep an eye on at least 30 players, because we had no idea where we'd pick in the Draft," explained the assistant general manager. "Elmer was the scout who covered the WHL. So his role was definitely important in us picking Price. He was very confident of the choice. He was convinced that Price would not only become an excellent No. 1 goalie, but also a franchise player for the Montreal Canadiens."
Price finished his stint in Junior with an 83-78-11-4 record, 2.53 goals-against average, .914 save percentage, and 15 shutouts in 193 games with the Tri-City Americans.
Now, he sits in second all-time in wins among goalies in bleu-blanc-rouge.
Thanks to Benning's flair for spotting young talent, the Anahim Lake, BC native went on to become one of the former scout's big hits.
Racking up the odometer
In his 20 years of service, Benning criss-crossed all over Western Canada with the help of his reliable 1995 Toyota Camry. The Canadiens scout traveled more than a million kilometers with the car.
To give an example of all the distance Benning covered in the Camry in order to discover the next generations of NHLers: he traveled the equivalent of a round trip to the moon, plus eight round trips between Montreal and Antarctica.
Timmins was fortunate enough to get to tag along in the iconic ride on several occasions.
"I've traveled quite a bit with him in that car. His trick for preserving it was to make regular oil changes with synthetic oil," shared Timmins. "Every time one of his sons bought a new car, they would give him their old one, but Elmer continued using that 1995 Camry and left the new car parked in the driveway. I would say it was the second love of his life, his wife Liz being the first."
Towards the end of his life, Benning and Liz got to live out their dreams by living on a small farm in Sandy Lake.
Thank you, Mr. Benning, for your loyalty and devotion all those many years. Your story will continue to travel through time, like you did all those season