He was an innovator that changed hockey forever, and the position of goalie. He was also known for having some problems off the ice, but his legacy on the ice is undisputed. Today, I am looking at the life and career of Clint Benedict.
Born in Ottawa on Sept. 26, 1892, Benedict played hockey on the local waterways of the area until he made his senior hockey debut with the Ottawa Stewartons in the Ottawa City League in 1909.
In 1910, his skill as a goaltender had him in high demand and he would move over to the Ottawa New Edinburgh of the Interprovincial Amateur Hockey Union. At the same time, he was making a name for himself by playing for the Ottawa Stars Lacrosse Club, picking up a city championship in 1911. He would eventually play professionally for the Ottawa Capitals Lacrosse Club, which allowed him to hone his hockey skills through the summer.
In 1912-13, Benedict joined the Ottawa Senators but only played 10 games that season as the Senators had Percy LeSueur, who was on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame goaltender himself.
The Calgary Herald wrote quote:
“At last, Clint Benedict has been prevailed upon to turn over to the pro side of sport and forsake the amateurs. The hockey and lacrosse moguls have been dickering with Benedict for two or three years now, and it was only a few days ago that he finally decided that there was nothing like getting out after the coin.”
Despite his limited play, Art Ross selected him to be one of the NHA All-Stars who played five games against the PCHA All-Stars. The team would win three games, losing two.
After one more season as a backup to LeSueur, Benedict became the starting goaltender for the Senators in 1914-15. He immediately made a name for himself, leading the league in goals against average.
The Calgary Herald reported quote:
“Clint Benedict of Ottawa has the best goal record and aside from the fact fewer goals have been scored on him than any other custodian, he has shown the best form of the winter.”
When Ottawa joined the NHL, Benedict went with the team and earned himself the nickname Praying Benny. This was because of his habit of dropping to his knees to make a save, something not allowed in hockey at the time.
On Feb. 1, 1917, the Vancouver Sun reported quote:
“Clint Benedict is laid up. Always thought he would injure his knees while dropping to the ice so frequently.”
Benedict would often try to bend the rule relating to making a save by having his feet leave the ice. He would say years later quote:
“What you had to be is sneaky. You’d make a move, fake losing your balance or footing and put the officials on a spot. Did I fall or did I intentionally go down? It was fun because you were playing games with the officials.”
He refused to stop so the first rule change that the NHL instituted in its history was to allow goalies to leave their feet to make a save.
The Kingston Daily Standard wrote of the rule change quote:
“This will give great satisfaction in Ottawa, for Clint Benedict of the Senators, was a notorious offender under the former rule, being warned in practically every game against dropping to his knees.”
Charles L. Coleman wrote in 1964 quote:
“Benedict put on a continuous show in the nets. His proclivity of flopping to the ice when the pressure was on necessitated a rule change. The officials claimed that the game would become a farce with frequent penalties to Benedict for going to the ice to make saves.”
Through the next few seasons, Benedict continued to dominate in the net, often keeping Ottawa in games that they should have lost. In a game on March 16, 1923, it was stated quote:
“The Maroons had bombarded Clint Benedict from every possible angle, unsuccessfully every few seconds during a solid hour’s play.”
In 1923-24, Benedict’s career was on the downward slide. He had developed a drinking problem that was kept secret by the Senators. Sometimes, he would play a game while intoxicated but his play was still good enough that the Senators turned a blind eye. That year, he still had 15 wins and seven losses, with a goals against average of only 1.99.
In the playoffs that year, he played poorly and the Senators were quickly eliminated. At this point, management withheld some of his salary as a penalty for his behaviour. This resulted in Benedict suing the Senators for his salary, while the Senators countersued him.
The Calgary Albertan reported quote:
“Clint Benedict, goalkeeper of the Ottawa club for years has started suit against the Senators for $800 salary and renumeration. Officers of the club are determined to fight the action and will allow the case to go to court on Oct. 7. In defence, the club claims $300 from Benedict whom they claim broke training rules.”
At this point, the newspapers found out about the drinking problem and both sides tried to minimize the publicity.
On Oct. 20, 1924, Benedict was signed by the Montreal Maroons after the Senators released him. The Winnipeg Tribune wrote quote:
“Clint Benedict is slated for the goal job and despite the fact that the Ottawa club released him, many hockey fans still regard him as the peer of all goalkeepers. Clint, however, is a hard man to control and it will not be long before the Montrealers find this out.”
In his time with the Senators, Benedict had won the team three Stanley Cups in 1919-20, 1920-21 and 1922-23. His best season with the team was 1919-20 when he had 19 wins and only five losses.
Things did not get off to a good start for Benedict, but that was more to do with the fact that the Maroons were a terrible team. In 1924-25, he finished with a record of nine wins and 19 losses, which was the first time since 1917-18 that he had more losses than wins.
The team slowly started to rebound and in 1925-26, Benedict had 20 wins and 11 losses. He then led the team to the Stanley Cup that year, winning his fourth and final Cup. In the Stanley Cup Final against the Victoria Cougars, he recorded an astounding three shutouts. This made him the first goaltender to record back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, something only three other goaltenders have done since.
In 1930, three decades before Jacques Plante changed hockey with his goalie mask, Benedict wore a mask and became the first goalie to wear facial protection in the NHL. On Jan. 7, 1930, he was hit in the face by a shot by Howie Morenz, which broke the bridge of his nose and knocked him out.
He said years later quote:
“Howie Morenz came in and hit me flush on the nose, shattering the nose and cheek.”
He returned six weeks later on Feb. 20, and was wearing a mask for the game.
The Vancouver Sun reported that Benedict was wearing a nose and mouth guard, stating quote:
“He wore it throughout the game, setting a precedent for the major leagues and setting also what may become a fashion among the much-battered goalers of the league. The mask is much like the nose guards worn by football players, but is strapped firmly over the top of the head and under the chin.”
It was stated that Bill O’Brien, the 200-pound Maroon trainer, stood on the mask without making a dent in it. The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Benedict himself is highly pleased with the contraption and declares it is a vast help and does not bother his vision.”
Hooley Smith would say in a game in Pittsburgh, where the lights were dim in the arena, that the mask looked like a death mask and made an eerie appearance on the ice.
He would say of wearing the mask quote:
“It was leather with a big nosepiece. The nosepiece proved to be the problem because it obscured my vision.”
He would play five games until March 4.
That day, Morenz took another shot, this one hitting Benedict in the throat, ending his career in the NHL. At the time, he was the oldest goaltender in the entire league.
He would say in 1965, quote:
“It is funny because it was Morenz, a good friend by the way, who eventually ended my career. He hit me in the larynx and that was the end.”
The Calgary Albertan would state quote:
“Benedict has seen a lot of stars fade away to a walk in the years that he has been numbered among the great goalkeepers of the day.”
As for Benedict, he felt that if he could have perfected the mask, he would have extended his career. He said quote:
“Had I been able to perfect the mask, I would have been a 20-year man. I began playing at 17 in the NHL and was only 34 when the injuries caught up with me.”
He would be placed on waivers and the following season he played for the Windsor Bulldogs. He would lead the team to a championship and recorded 20 wins and 15 losses.
He retired the following season from hockey. In his career, he had 53 wins and 26 losses in the NHA. In the NHL, he recorded 190 wins and 143 losses, with 28 ties. His career goals against average was 2.32, along with 57 shutouts. His best season for shutouts was 1926-27 when he had 13. In 28 Stanley Cup playoff games, he had nine shutouts.
Benedict tied or led the league in games played and shutouts seven times. He led the league in wins and lowest goals against average five times.
Georges Vezina passed away in 1926, a few years before Benedict played his last game. While the Vezina existed during the last three seasons of Benedict’s career, he was never in contention for it. If the trophy existed half a decade earlier, it is likely Benedict would have won the trophy several times.
Lorne Duguid, a fellow player on the Maroons would say of Benedict, quote:
“He was a fine goaler and a great team man.”
Throughout his career, he was injured several times, not the least of which was his injury that led him to wear a mask for a few games. In one game, he was injured so badly he could barely move his leg.
In another game in 1923, a flying hockey stick hit him in the head, leading to him being out for several games as he recovered from what was likely a concussion.
After his career finished, Benedict became the manager and coach of the Saint John Beavers, spending two seasons with the team.
In 1965, well after he was eligible, Benedict was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is possible that his drinking early in his career delayed his induction. The delay in his induction was enough that the year he was inducted, so too was Sid Howe, a player who started his career as Benedict’s career was ending.
Howe would say of Benedict that year quote:
“When I was a kid, I went to the rink to see the pros from the rush end seats. I once saw Benedict down on the ice and reached up to make a save. I still think was the best I ever saw made.”
The Ottawa Journal wrote quote:
“Many long viewers of hockey will relish the election of Clint Benedict, now in the Perley Hospital in Ottawa. This tall athlete is identified for the most part with the introduction of the flopping, failing type of blocking between the pipes, and this is essentially true.”
Frank Nighbor would say of Benedict quote:
“There was no better man but Benny always had a good sense of humour and I just wanted to say how pleased I was to hear he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It made me think that all of that Ottawa team that won three Stanley Cups before and after the 20s wasn’t such a bad team as that.”
On Nov. 12, 1976, he would pass away at the age of 84.
In 1998, he ranked 77th on the list of the 100 greatest hockey players ever by The Hockey News.
Information from Macleans, NHL.com, Kingston Daily Whig Standard, Wikipedia, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Star, Ottawa Journal,