NHL Legend: The Dean Prentice StoryNovember 5, 2019
HMI mourns the loss of long time staff member and teammate, Dean Prentice. We send condolences to his dear wife June of 65 years, daughters Kerry and Kelly, grandchildren and great grandchildren. “...those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever."
An NHL Legened: The Dean Prentice Story by Don Liesemer, December of 2013.
"Come on Dean, you are not going to let one of your dummy teammates take the penalty shot for you are you?" (Bobby Hull)
It happened in historic Chicago Stadium on December 27, 1964. Boston Bruin winger, Dean Prentice, blocked a Stan Makita shot at the blue line and took off for the Blackhawks' net. While speeding toward the goal Prentice was tripped from behind by Makita and crashed into the end boards. Referee Frank Udvari ruled that Makita tripped the Bruin winger on a clear breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. However, Prentice was sprawled on the ice, unconscious. Through the fog of pain and only slightly revived as a result of his trainer's cracking an ammonia sniffer under his nose, Prentice heard the taunts of his fierce Blackhawk opponent, Bobby Hull: "Come on Dean, you are not going to let one of your dummy teammates take the penalty shot for you are you? "
The piercing words hit a nerve. The wounded Bruin pushed aside the pain, took up the challenge, jumped to his feet, grabbed the puck at centre ice, sped in on the goal, pulled a nifty move and tucked the puck behind Blackhawk goalie, Denis DeJordy. Back on the bench...the unexpected. As the penalty shot champion tried to answer the call for his next shift he was frozen to the bench; his back and legs wouldn't budge. Dean was carried off on a stretcher and x-rays later revealed that he had a broken back. The tenacious hockey legend had pulled off an unparalleled feat in NHL history in scoring with a broken back. His reward: a goal and a body cast.
There were many thrilling moments in the legend's illustrious 22 year National Hockey league career with the Rangers, Bruins, Red Wings, Penguins and North Stars... But the most memorable took place off the ice and away from the rink. At the 1301 game mark, with 363 goals, 422 assists, 456 penalty minutes, an All Star selection, and the thrill of being a Stanley Cup finalist to his credit, a stirring began to occur in Dean's heart. In the early 1970's an article appeared in the Hockey News publication with the heading, "Prentice Joins Bible Group." What would cause a hockey hero to study the Bible? At 40 years of age he had a beautiful wife, two lovely daughters, happiness, prestige and two years remaining on his NHL contract.
But, Dean began to sense a strange and abiding emptiness even in his productive life in the NHL. Something vital was missing. Would God use the emptiness to draw Dean to Himself? Was the Lord in pursuit of the veteran North Star winger?
In addition to this haunting empty feeling, something else was gnawing away at the macho Minnesota NHL forward; twenty years of life in hockey. The long road trips, swearing, fighting and drinking beer... all began to take their toll. Things came to a head during training camp in 1972. The legend explains: "After returning home from a road trip to Vancouver with one large hangover, I could hardly face my family. For sure I couldn't handle dinner. My wife was very upset. We had a face to face meeting at the kitchen table. The cards were laid out."
NFL football players to the rescue... June also had been searching for something more in life. While Dean was on his road trip in Vancouver, she was in Minneapolis attending a Christian outreach event and listening to the life stories of 3 Viking Football players, Doug Kingsriter, Jeff Siemon, and Fred Cox. Their stories of personal faith in Christ, touched her life. They had something that the Prentice's didn't have. June shared her feelings with her husband that night during their session at the kitchen table. Dean immediately resolved to meet with the 3 football players. He felt like he had been hit with a slap shot as he listened to the NFL players over lunch. He had always thought that because he had never committed any violent crimes that he wasn't really a sinner and didn't need help. Besides, he did attend church from time to time. Like the vast majority of people, the NHL star had believed that when you meet God face to face if your good works outweigh your bad deeds you will be welcomed into heaven. But as he listened to them explain the Bible, he began to understand, that it doesn’t work that way! God has a completely different plan. He wants to be magnified as a God of Grace. That's why He sent His Son into the world that first Christmas. His way into heaven is through believing in and receiving His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, was buried and rose again. Our personal record of good versus bad isn't part of the equation. The NHL player from Schumacher Ontario, faced reality: "I knew that I was a sinner. I was filled with pride, hated opposing players and had many other shortcomings. I was convinced that the Lord was the only one who could help me".
The Prentices were hurting and God's loving heart was touched. He reached out to them and they responded. "Both June and I knew what was needed. So we got down on our knees, admitted to God that we were sinners, asked His forgiveness and invited Christ into our lives. The Bible says in Revelation 3:20, 'Look!, I have been standing at the door and constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with Me.' The Lord did just as He promised. He came into our lives and we felt great."
"While June was excited that we had found peace, for me it was like skating around with a piano on my back and having it lifted off. The heavy weight of my sin was gone, and I felt a new sense of freedom. I felt physically younger and stronger as I relied on Christ to give me strength. There was no letdown in my game. I was playing for Christ. I just made Him the center of my life. In looking back over my life, my only regret is that I did not come to know the Lord a long time before I did. For 20 years I was a macho hockey player, but for the last two years of my career I knew I was playing for the honour of the Lord."
The couple's daughters, Kelly and Kerry, also received Christ into their hearts. The Prentice family would never be the same. The love of Jesus became the centre of their family and home.
After retiring as a player, Dean went on to coach in the AHL and the USHL before becoming the recreation director for the Southwest Ontario community of Ayr. They joined the Hockey Ministries International staff team in the late 1980's.
The Prentices have been ambassadors for Christ and leaders in the Christian movement in hockey. They are highly esteemed and loved amongst their peers and throughout the hockey world. As HMI staff members they carried the message of hope found in knowing Jesus from team to team and arena to arena speaking to players, coaches and fans. It was teamwork. June prayed in the stands while Dean spoke to players in the dressing room. The Prentices were also highly committed to HMI's Christian Hockey Camp programs where for many years they travelled across North America reaching out to young hockey players.
Dean and June look back in awe at their life-changing encounter with Jesus in the early 1970's and rejoice about the impact that Christ has had not only on their lives, but also on their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Indeed all who have been privileged to know the Prentice family have been touched by the love and peace of God which is so evident in their lives.
"...I have come that you might have life and have it to the full."... Jesus (John 10:10)
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