Six-time Stanley Cup champion, politician, lawyer and best-selling author. These are only a few of the accomplishments you’ll find on Ken Dryden’s resume. Despite only playing for eight NHL seasons, the former Montreal Canadiens goalie left a major mark on the city of Montreal, and the entire nation for that matter. His large stature, target mask and signature stance intimidated other players. And, off the ice, Dryden was an intellectual force to be reckoned with. Here’s why we will likely never see another player like him again.
More Than Just Beginner’s Luck
Although he was drafted in 1964, Dryden decided to finish his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, where he played hockey until graduation. After a stellar college career, he finally made his NHL debut with the Canadiens in March 1971.
It only took a few games for the club to consider the rookie as a starter for the upcoming playoffs. And so, he replaced veteran goalie, Rogie Vachon. The Habs battled their way through the playoffs, and after a hard-fought seven-game series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal came out Stanley Cup champions. The young goalie earned himself a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for backstopping the unexpected victors. And, the following season, he was voted rookie of the year.
Plenty of Hardware
Over the course of his eight-season career, Dryden accumulated six Stanley Cups, five Vezina Trophies, a Calder Trophy, and the aforementioned Conn Smythe Trophy, making him the most decorated goalie of the 1970s. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 in his first year of eligibility. Also, the Canadiens raised his No. 29 into the Bell Center rafters in 2007. Although these accomplishments are extraordinary, there has always been a hint of criticism associated with the goalie’s exploits. Some people tend to measure Dryden’s success at a lesser degree since he played for a dynasty.
While it is true that the Canadiens of the 1970s were virtually unbeatable, winning six Stanley Cups in the decade and posting a 60-8-12 record in the 76-77 season, it should not discount Dryden’s efforts. Bob Gainey was clear in disregarding this theory when he defended his friend and former teammate’s abilities.
“If someone asked me whether Ken Dryden was a good goalie or an average goalie, or a great goalie, I’d check the questioner. Because I really don’t understand how you can look at a man’s record over eight or nine years and look at the number of championships, and look at the team records, and look at the individual records and ask the question. He was a top goalie in his era… he accomplished what he wanted to, and he left.” (From Legends of Hockey, ESPN, 2001)
An Early Retirement
Dryden was arguably in the prime of his career when he hung up the skates in 1979. But it was not the game’s physical toll that caused him to walk away from hockey; it was his motivation to excel in other fields. It was always clear that Dryden was an intellectual first and an athlete second. He even wrote his first book and attained his law degree from McGill University while playing for the Canadiens.
So, after six Stanley Cups, Dryden was ready for a new endeavor. He wrote the commercially and critically successful book, The Game, in 1983. Acclaimed author, Mordecai Richler gave his work special praise.
“Dryden has written a very special book, possibly the best hockey book I have ever read. His affectionate yet realistic portrait of the players is unrivaled in hockey writing.” (The Game, Dryden, 1983)
Off the Ice
Along with writing, Dryden has also tried his hand at sports commentating and teaching. He also served as a member of Canadian parliament from 2004 to 2011. To say he is multi-talented is an understatement.
In an interview, Legendary Canadian journalist, Red Fisher summarized Dryden’s philosophy toward success.
“I think Ken Dryden is a genius. He can do everything he sets out to do. He is one of the best writers I have ever read … If he wanted to be one of the best lawyers around, he could be that. If he wanted to be one of the best politicians around, he could be that. When he puts his mind to doing something, whether it’s on the ice, off the ice, nobody does it like Ken Dryden.”
Over the years, Dryden has proven his versatility, creativity, and commitment to winning. He is a champion in every sense of the word and continues to be an excellent ambassador for Canadians on and off the ice.