THE BALLAD OF LES BINKLEY


It was great to speak to Les Binkley a bit this past weekend. Binkley is the original Penguins goalie, having manned the net from 1967-72.

Binkley played in the first Penguins’ game ever, a 2-1 home loss to Montreal on Oct 11, 1967. Attendance at the Civic Arena was 9,307 – a robust crowd by the standard of the day.

Current GM Jim Rutherford shared goaltending duties with Binkley in 1971-72. When I saw the two conversing at PPG Paints Arena Sunday, I blurted out, “Wow! It’s the goaltending tandem from when I was 10 years old!” They got a kick out of it.

Binkley was an excellent goaltender. He started his career as a trainer/practice goalie in the minors, then broke into the NHL at 33 when the NHL expanded by six teams in 1967. He played five seasons with the Penguins, then closed out his playing days with four campaigns in the World Hockey Association.

Binkley’s best season was probably his first in the NHL: He had a 2.87 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and six shutouts in 1967-68. Those were heady numbers tending goal for a non-playoff expansion team.

Binkley wore contacts, and decorated his mask with an unusual nuance: He painted black under the eye holes to cut down on glare.

There’s not much footage of Binkley on YouTube. But below is a clip of Binkley making a great save (and also getting hit in the mask) in 1971 against Boston. Also posted is a video recounting that first-ever Penguins game in 1967. (It's a great clip, but it makes me miss Jack Riley, the first-ever Penguins GM who passed in 2016.)

Binkley attended Sunday’s game, and it was awesome to see him converse with Matt Murray after. The first Penguins goalie, the current Penguins goalie, and both damn good goalies. I’m lucky to have seen both play, and everybody in-between.

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