April 24, 2019

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Andy Hebenton, N.H.L. Ironman with 630 Consecutive Games, Dies at 89

Andy Hebenton, N.H.L. Ironman with 630 Consecutive Games, Dies at 89
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Andy Hebenton, who never missed a game during eight seasons with the New York Rangers and a final season with the Boston Bruins in setting a record at the time of 630 consecutive National Hockey League appearances, died on Tuesday in Gresham, Ore. He was 89.

His death, at an assisted living facility near Portland, was confirmed by his son Clay, who said he had congestive heart failure.

Hebenton was only 5 feet 9 inches and 180 pounds or so but was essentially indestructible, playing on right wing in the old six-team N.H.L. during the 1950s and ’60s, when players had yet to wear helmets and brawls were common.

He appeared in 216 straight games in the minors before the Rangers obtained him in 1955 and, coincidentally, another 216 consecutive games in the minor leagues after the Bruins released him in 1964.

Hebenton’s streak of 1,062 consecutive professional games, in both the minor and major leagues, ended in the 1967-68 season, when he left the Portland Buckaroos of the Western Hockey League to attend the funeral of his father, Robert, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Hebenton eclipsed the N.H.L. record of 580 consecutive games played, set by Johnny Wilson, a wing, who skated for four teams. Doug Jarvis is now No. 1 on the ironman list, having appeared in 964 straight games with three teams in the 1970s and ′80s.

Hebenton’s closest call to missing an N.H.L. game came in the 1956-57 season, when he won the league’s Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly play combined with exceptional talent.

In a game at the old Madison Square Garden, he was poked in the eye with a stick, causing the lid to puff up.

“It shut so tight I couldn’t see at all,” Hebenton told Sports Illustrated in 1967. “But somehow our club doctor managed to squeeze drops of some kind into it the next night in Montreal. The eye opened up a little, just enough so that I could get into the game.”

Hebenton was among the top 10 goal-scorers three times during his N.H.L. career. His highest point total came in the 1958-59 season when he scored 33 goals and had 29 assists, No. 3 on the Rangers in total points behind the future Hall of Fame wing Andy Bathgate and center Red Sullivan. He played in the 1960 N.H.L. All-Star Game.

But, as he told it, he wasn’t especially a home-crowd favorite; many Ranger fans, he said, felt he wasn’t tough enough. He incurred only 80 penalty minutes as a Ranger and appeared six times among the top five in balloting for the Lady Byng award.

When Hebenton lost seven teeth on the ice in a two-week period in January 1961, The New York Times took notice with an article headlined “Hebenton Puts Teeth in His Game: Quiet Ranger Is Still Not Angry after Losing Seven.”

Hebenton figured that the fans would finally be satisfied.

“I got my teeth knocked out, so now they should have no complaints,” he told The Times. “I admire guys who are tough and mean, and maybe I’d get more recognition if I was a mean guy. But when you go around knocking everybody down, you’re too tired to put a puck in the net. I was hired to score goals, not to sit in the penalty box.”

Andrew Alexander Hebenton was born on Oct. 3, 1929, in Winnipeg. He received his first pair of skates when he was 5 and tried them out in a backyard rink built by his father, a city Parks Department worker.

He was obtained by the Rangers after playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.

Hebenton finished second to Glenn Hall, the Detroit Red Wings’ goalie and a future Hall of Famer, in the balloting for the 1955-1956 Calder Cup as the N.H.L. rookie of the year; he had scored 24 goals with 14 assists.

His most memorable goal came during the first overtime in Game 2 of the Rangers-Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup semifinals in 1957. Skating along the right boards, he put a 15-foot shot past goalie Jacques Plante to give the Rangers a 4-3 victory. But the Canadiens captured the series, 4 games to 1, and won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Bruins in the finals.

The Rangers reached the playoffs four times during Hebenton’s years with them, but never made it to the championship round.

The Bruins selected Hebenton for a fee of $20,000 in the N.H.L. draft after the 1962-63 season. He scored 12 goals in his only season with them. He was then sent to the minors and never returned to the N.H.L., playing mostly in the Western Hockey League for Portland and the Victoria Maple Leafs before retiring at 45.

He later owned a cement contracting business in the Portland area.

In addition to his son Clay, who was a goalie with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the World Hockey Association for two seasons in the 1970s, Hebenton is survived by another son, Tim; three daughters, Melanie Walker, Karen Hebenton and Terry Fisher; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Gael (Beveridge) Hebenton, died in 2014.

In describing how he didn’t satisfy the blood lust of some Ranger fans, Hebenton told The Times that he had showed grit going back to childhood.

“I was knocked down by a bus when I was 4 and hit in the head with a baseball bat when I was 6,” he said. “Now what is there to be scared about in a hockey game?”



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