The great amateur scout Elmer Benning, who has worked for the Montreal Canadiens for nearly 50 years, is just back from a clinic in Mexico, hoping to slow his prostate cancer, so won’t be at the NHL draft on June 22-23 in Dallas.
But he’s anxiously waiting to see what name his employer calls at No. 3.
Who are they taking?
“I didn’t ask, I don’t want to know. I might tell somebody,” laughed Benning.
His travel-weary Camry, which traversed snowy roads in Saskatchewan and Alberta, has been retired even if its owner hasn’t after, “a million, three thousand clicks.” He gave it to his mechanic for a dollar and then it was moved to a Toyota dealership on Calgary Trail where it sits proudly with a new paint job in a large indoor showroom.
“It had some rust spots but nothing was a disaster,” Benning said.
Son Brian gave him a nice Lexus to drive, but Benning also has a Chevy with 350,000 clicks on it, which might be his new travelling baby.
“But I don’t think I’ll get to a million with that one,” he said.
It was Elmer, 77, who quietly pushed for Carey Price in 2005, not that he’ll ever tell you that because blowing his horn has never been his thing. But he didn’t care that picking a goalie at No. 5 seemed a bit of a reach. And he was right, of course.
He also had a soft spot one year for a huge, raw kid named Dustin Byfuglien and when asked along with other Montreal scouts to go to bat for a long-shot in the later rounds, called out his name.
But, Chicago Blackhawks got Big Buff, instead, at No. 245 in 2003. Montreal had the 241st pick that year, taking Montreal Rocket fighter Jimmy Bonneau.
Benning has always had an abiding interest in the draft selection process more than most talent-evaluators, of course. Sons Jim and Brian were first and second-round picks in the 1980s, and grandson Matt a sixth-rounder six years ago.
And none went to Montreal. Like, where’s his pull?
Jim, the Vancouver Canucks general manager, went sixth to Toronto in 1981. Brian, who owns an Interstate Battery franchise, went 26th to St. Louis in 1984, just into the second-round. Matt, the Oilers defenceman, was the 175th name called in 2012 by Boston, out of Northeastern University.
“I never asked why my children or grandchildren didn’t get drafted by Montreal,” said Benning. “I didn’t go to the draft the year Jim was picked so didn’t sit in on their (scouts) meetings so didn’t know where he was rated. I don’t know if Montreal had a shot or not.”
Montreal were picking seventh that year and took winger Mark Hunter, the former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager.
“Brian went in the second round and missed half of his (draft) season because he broke his scaphoid (bone). Montreal took a feisty forward who played in Edmonton for a while (Shayne Corson, No. 7 overall) with their first pick,” said Benning.
In Round 2, Montreal didn’t select until 29th and got Stephane Richer.
“I was involved when Matt was drafted and can’t or won’t say he should have been picked by Montreal,” Benning said. “I gave my opinion of Matt but it’s not in my personality to go up to (head scout) Trevor (Timmins) and say, ‘why aren’t you taking my grandson?’ Every team had lots of time to take Matt higher.
“In Matt’s case when he became a free agent, six teams really wanted to sign him.”
Benning didn’t scout last winter because of his illness and watched Oilers games on TV, but hopes to scout the junior rinks this year, God willing, with some new treatment and a diet, which cuts out all sugar, white flour and salt.
“A weakness of mine has been desserts and I’m not ashamed to say it,” he said. “I can’t go to Costco and have a hot-dog anymore … no more fat foods. But how can you go wrong for a buck fifty?”
His health has been an issue for some time.
“I went to this cancer clinic May 8 and I’m not going to jump up and down and say they cured me but I feel a lot better, I’m a bit stronger and I have some hope now,” said Benning, who had treatments twice a day in Tijuana and is going back with nurse-wife Liz in three months for 10 days to see how things are. “I’m trying to buy a little time.”
Everybody misses his face. He belongs in arenas across the West, watching kids.
“I’ve really missed the rinks but Montreal has been good to me and I’m still employed by them,” Benning said. “The way I’m feeling now I can go (to hockey games).”
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