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NHL History

Hockey Day in Canada evokes game's history in Owen Sound

City northwest of Toronto backdrop for quadrupleheader on Sportsnet

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Harry Lumley stories will be flowing this weekend like the pure summertime waters around Owen Sound, Ontario, the late, storied goalie among those being celebrated during the 23rd annual Scotiabank Hockey Day In Canada.

And so too will there be many tales told about and by Les Binkley, a fellow Owen Sound goalie who idolized Lumley on his own road to becoming the 1967-68 expansion Pittsburgh Penguins' first starting goalie. 

"Harry was a big man and he was good with the stick," Binkley said of the six-foot, 195-pound Lumley.

Then, almost under his breath: "Nobody knew this but Harry might have played for a long time with an illegal stick. That's just what he told me. I never measured one, so I can't confirm it."

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Les Binkley and defenseman Tracy Pratt defend against Toronto's Norm Ullman during a Nov. 12, 1969 game at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Penguins blanked Toronto 3-0. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

 

Since Lumley's Northland Professional and CCM Custom Made Pro lumber isn't talking, rumors of their too-tall blade height go directly to the thick file labelled NHL Lore.

The partnership of Owen Sound and Sportsnet is this week presenting four days of community and family-friendly events in the city and surrounding area, capped by Saturday's day-long marathon telecast of NHL games involving all seven Canadian teams.

Seventeen NHL players have hailed from Owen Sound, a city about 120 miles northwest of Toronto on an inlet of Georgian Bay. The community of about 21,000 is fiercely proud of the 11 skaters and six goalies -- from Clarence "Hap" Day, born June 14, 1901, through Cody Bass, born Jan. 7, 1987 -- who played a total of 3,028 NHL games.

Clarence "Hap" Day in a 1934-35 portrait and as Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager with the 1951 Stanley Cup. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame

 

The roster includes two Hockey Hall of Famers -- Day, enshrined in 1961, a forward who won the Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1931-32, later coach and GM of the team; and Lumley, Hall of Fame Class of 1980, a Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings in 1950 and winner of the Vezina Trophy with the Maple Leafs in 1954.

They range in NHL tenure from a single game -- goalie Mike Minard with the Edmonton Oilers in 1999-2000 -- through Lumley's 803. Day, who died in 1990 at age 88, leads the forwards and defensemen with 586 games, skating his first season in 1924-25, ahead of Butch Keeling's 525, beginning in 1926-27.

The six goalies combined for 455 victories and 92 shutouts with Lumley, who died in 1998 at age 71, holding a record that seems destined to last forever. He made his NHL debut at age 17 years, 38 days for the Red Wings on Dec. 19, 1943, against the New York Rangers, the youngest goalie to ever have played a League game. Rules today stipulate that a player must be 18 as of Sept. 15 to be eligible.

Harry Lumley, age 17, in a 1943-44 Detroit Red Wings portrait, and suiting up in his team's Maple Leaf Gardens dressing room on Dec. 16, 1944. Le Studio du Hockey/Hockey Hall of Fame; Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame

 

Author and historian Paul White's 2021 self-published book "Journey Through Owen Sound's Hockey History" charts the sport in the community from the 1880s through today, where games are played in an arena fittingly named for its most famous hockey son: the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.

Nicknamed "Apple Cheeks" for his rosy complexion, Lumley, a defenseman, was tapped to play goal in Owen Sound's Strathcona Public School when the regular netminder failed to show up. Lumley blanked the opposition that day and a career between the pipes was born, bound for the Red Wings, one period on loan to the New York Rangers, then the Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

Owen Sound has been home to two major-junior Memorial Cup champions, the Greys winning in 1924 and 1927, and the 1950-51 Allan Cup national senior title won by the Mercurys, a seven-game sudden-death nailbiter against the Fort Frances Canadians.

Goalie Curtis Sanford, an alumnus of the major-junior Owen Sound Platers, graduated to play 144 NHL games from 2002-12 for the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets. Today, he's goalie coach for the Maple Leafs.

Current Toronto Maple Leafs goalie coach Curtis Sanford in action with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 26, 2012 and Les Binkley in an early-1950s pose with the junior Galt Black Hawks. Jamie Sabau/Getty Images; Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame

 

Binkley is ferociously proud of his Owen Sound roots and every game he played for 15 different teams from his junior debut in 1949 through his retirement in from pro hockey in 1976.

The 88-year-old's journey famously included being scored upon twice by future motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel in a March 1975 WHA penalty-shot promotion at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

To his credit, Binkley stopped two Knievel tries in the four-shot caper and, in a later promotion, denied a hot-shot 12-year-old whose eyes grew wide at the five-hole the goalie deliberately left open before slamming it shut.

"And I don't think to this day that Wayne Gretzky can believe he didn't score on that one," Binkley said.

In 1971 with the Penguins, he surrendered the 544th career goal by Chicago Black Hawks sniper Bobby Hull, which then briefly tied Hull with retired Montreal Canadiens icon Maurice Richard for second place on the all-time NHL list.

Three years earlier, Binkley had yielded the milestone 700th goal of Red Wings legend Gordie Howe.5

The 1950-51 Owen Sound Mercurys, winners of the Canadian senior Allan Cup championship. Macdonald Stewart/Hockey Hall of Fame

 

But a list of Binkley's highlights balances his ledger:

He earned a remarkable six shutouts in 54 games for the 1967-68 expansion Penguins; he had a goals-against average of 3.12 through his 196 regular-season games, often playing in front of a screen-door defense; he shut out the Canadiens 4-0 on home ice on March 3, 1971, his last of 11 career shutouts, with 23 of Montreal's 33 shots that night coming off the sticks of future Hall of Fame members; and in 2003, he was inducted into the Penguins Hall of Fame, having been part of their scouting staff for championships in 1991 and 1992.

Binkley fondly recalls the 1992 NHL Draft, held at the Montreal Forum, and Penguins GM Craig Patrick giving the Stanley Cup to team scouts for a day on the town.

"We took it to a restaurant where they served great sandwiches," he said of Ben's, the long-mourned, legendary smoked-meat emporium, "and they went nuts."

Les Binkley in three of his Pittsburgh Penguins O-Pee-Chee cards. From left: 1969-70, 1970-71 and 1971-72. Courtesy Bluenose Collectibles

 

Almost a half-century earlier, Binkley had been hauling two bags of goalie equipment across Owen Sound in his youth, by foot over a railway bridge to the local arena for morning practice, then lugging it home before he went to school.

"I tried to reduce it to one bag by tying my pads together and throwing them over my shoulder," he said.

Binkley would graduate from Owen Sound minor hockey to play junior with the Galt Black Hawks, located 100 miles south. The NHL Black Hawks would invite their sponsored-team goalie to training camp, where he recalls a single sentence that would bury him in the minors for a dozen years.

"They said, 'You're a good goaltender but you can't see,'" Binkley recalled, Black Hawks management unimpressed that he had 20/20 vision with the contact lenses that he wore.

He would ultimately land with the 1967-68 Penguins, paid $12,500 as a 33-year-old rookie, playing five NHL seasons and three-plus more in the WHA.

Owen Sound native Cody Bass of the Nashville Predators watches the action from the bench during a 2016-17 home game. John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

 

Binkley expects to be bouncing like a warm puck around Hockey Day In Canada through the weekend, events in his hometown having begun on Jan. 18. They include clinics, high school games for boys and girls and celebrity and alumni games, crowned by a Saturday morning Stanley Cup parade to the opening ceremony of a day-long outdoor hockey festival.

Sportsnet will cut to the festivities during its four televised games: the Tampa Bay Lightning in Calgary against the Flames (3 p.m. ET, CBC, TVAS, SN, BSSUN, SN NOW); the Maple Leafs in Montreal against the Canadiens (7 p.m. ET, CBC, TVAS, SNE, SNO, SNP, NHLN, SN NOW); the Winnipeg Jets in Ottawa against the Senators (7 p.m. ET, SN1, CITY, SNW, TVAS2, SN NOW); and the Edmonton Oilers in Vancouver against the Canucks (10 p.m. ET, CBC, SN, CITY, SN NOW).

Now a resident of Walkerton, Ontario, about 40 miles south of Owen Sound, Binkley will think fondly of Lumley, as he often does.

"Harry went to lots of junior games in Owen Sound, and we'd sit together while I was scouting," he said. "Finally he'd say, 'I can't watch any more, let's go to Seldon House (a century-old hotel and bar). There was music there - country/western."

Then, with a laugh:

"And Harry had a lot of stories," Binkley said. "So many of them." 

Top photo: Goalie Harry Lumley poses with the 1953-54 Vezina Trophy that he won with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame

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