It’s been said that Dean Prentice is one of the best players not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It can also be said that he was one of the toughest to ever play the game considering that he once scored on a penalty shot after suffering what proved to be a broken back.
The 5-11, 180 pound, native of Schumacher, Ontario came up through the Rangers organization and played 11 seasons on Broadway. He spent most of that time as left wing on the Blueshirts top line with Andy Bathgate on the right side and Larry Popein in the middle. Traded to Boston in 1963, Dean went on to have four productive seasons in Beantown, despite suffering a broken back in 1964.
The injury occurred in Chicago Stadium on December 27, 1964. Prentice had blocked a shot by Stan Mikita at the blue line and took off for the Black Hawks’ net. He was tripped from behind by Mikita and crashed heavily into the end boards. Referee Frank Udvari ruled that Dean had a clean breakaway when tripped and awarded him a penalty shot.b
However, as a result of the collision with the boards, Prentice was sprawled on the ice, unconscious. Through the pain and only slightly revived thanks to his trainer waving a vial of ammonia under his nose, Prentice heard the laughs and taunts of the Black Hawk’s Bobby Hull: “Come on Dean, you’re not going to let one of your dummy teammates take the penalty shot for you, are you? ”
Hull’s words struck a nerve and despite the pain and grogginess, Prentice got to his feet and grabbed the puck at center ice, sped in on the goal, pulled a nifty move and tucked the disc behind goalie, Denis DeJordy. However, minutes later, while back on the bench, Prentice found that he couldn’t move and had to be carried off on a stretcher. X-rays later revealed that he had suffered a broken back and he spent the next six months in a body cast.
Prentice made a full recovery and returned to the Bruins the next season scoring 23 goals in 70 games. Overall in 22 seasons with New York, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, the five-time All-Star scored 391 goals with 469 assists for 860 points in 1,378 games and added 13 goals with 17 assists in 54 playoff games.
Prentice passed away in 2019 at the age of 87, but are his stats Hall of Fame worthy? Maybe, maybe not. But then again how many inductees ever scored a goal with a broken back?