Dryden Talks Game

Ex-MP & Hockey Legend on Head Shots, Hockey History

  • Photo by Adam Kovac

A crowd filled the Indigo bookstore in Place Montréal Trust Feb. 2 to hear former Montreal Canadiens goaltender and politician Ken Dryden talk about his book, The Game, and weigh in on the concussion crisis currently rocking the hockey world.

The event was put on as part of Canada Reads, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-run endeavour to choose and promote Canada’s best books. The Game, released in 1983, recounts Dryden’s memories of the pressures of being a goaltender in the National Hockey League. It also takes an in-depth look at the Montreal squad that took home the Stanley Cup in 1979.

“Do you know what happens with a brain inside of a skull, with collisions? It’s similar to throwing a Super-Ball on a squash court.” Ken Dryden

Dryden went from speaking of his earliest moments playing the sport to discussing the speed and intensity of how it is played today.

The 64-year-old multi-Vezina Award-winner spoke about the drastic change in speed in the game now compared to when he donned the Habs jersey 33 years ago.

“If you look at a full game from the 1950s, one from the ‘70s and one from today, you’d think, ‘Oh my God, that game is unbelievably slow,’” he said. Dryden recalled there was no phrase like
‘finishing your checks’ back then because the other player would be too far away.

“If you did [finish your check and hit somebody], you would have had to go 10 or 15 more feet,” he said. “[It] was so obvi- ously interference that it didn’t happen.”

Dryden felt like players’ improved conditioning and increased size were factors that have changed the game significantly.

“It’s the combination of a game that goes a whole lot faster, and players that would be an average of 25 pounds heavier now, and in very good condition, so the force of collisions is that much
greater,” said Dryden.

In light of this, he believes that 50 years from now, people are going to be looking back, wondering how irresponsible the athletes of today could be. “Do you know what happens with a brain inside of a skull, with collisions? It’s similar to throwing a Super-Ball on a squash court.”

Dryden tended goal for the Montreal Canadiens between 1970 and 1979, winning six Stanley Cups and five Vezina Trophies in that period as the league’s best net-minder before retiring from hockey at the age of 31.

Dryden pursued a number of different fields after his NHL career, publishing several books, working as an executive for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and serving as a Minister of Parliament for the Liberal Party from 2004 to 2011.

Dryden’s not the only one who’s worried about the state of the game, however. Gordon Bloom, associate professor of Sport Psychology at McGill University, joined Dryden at the talk and noted that all this hitting in the NHL is having an impact on children as well.

“If professionals are showing a lack of respect by not playing the game the way it used to be played, it carries down, and I’ve seen it in minor hockey,” said Bloom.

In fact, Lisa-Marie Breton, who plays for the Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, has kept away from watching men’s hockey because of this intensity.

“I don’t watch the NHL because I find there’s not enough passes or nice plays. The guys are just smashing into the boards,” said Breton, who also works as a fitness trainer for Concordia University. “In women’s hockey we don’t have body checks; we have contact which is only along the boards, in the same direction.”

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