How Ken Dryden Inspired Tenders Lounge

The events that triggered the idea about a site specifically for goalies was the retirement of Ken Dryden’s jersey in Montreal last year. I watched the Leafs every Saturday night growing up in the late 70’s so Mike Palmateer was my favorite goalie but Ken Dryden was my hero.

As I watched the jersey ceremony last year in Montreal I was reminded of everything about him that inspired me to be a better goalie, a better student and more conscious of the world outside of hockey. And it struck me that not only were millions of people watching this ceremony and recalling their favorite memory of watching Dryden play, but there had to be a handful of goalies my age who had not only tried to rest their chin on the butt end of their stick á la Dryden but had also been inspired by him to further the social and academic interests in their life.

There was a community of goalies out there, young and old, active and retired, boys and girls who shared a passion for everything goaltender-related. Ideas about this community stewed in my head for about a year before Tenders Lounge was born. Even though Dryden’s ceremony is well past its news expiration date I still feel compelled to share what went through my mind watching my TV that night. I hope some of these feelings strike a chord with you.

I was only two years old when Ken Dryden won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, a year before he won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year (he’s still the only player in NHL history to do this and probably the only one who ever will). I was three years old when Dryden backstopped Canada to its thrilling victory in the Summit series with the Soviets. My only memories of these accomplishments come from watching video at a later age (although my dad did sit me on the sofa to watch all eight of the Summit games).

My memories of actually watching Dryden play began with the start of Montreal’s four-year cup run in 1975-76. They include a vague recollection of the New Years Eve game against Vladislav Tretiak and the Central Red Army (widely agreed to be the greatest hockey game ever played; if you haven’t seen it find it somehow/somewhere on tape or DVD).

Most of my memories watching Dryden play involve the Boston Bruins. I think the only time the CBC ever showed the Habs in the Toronto market was when they were playing the Leafs or during the playoffs. And in the late 70s it was a given the Habs and B’s would match up sometime in the playoffs for what was inevitably the best hockey of the season so that’s the only time I got to watch him. It was also inevitable, btw, the Montreal press would ignore Gilles Gilbert’s superb performances in the Boston goal and select three Canadiens as the game’s stars, regardless of outcome. My memories of Dryden on the ice culminate with the Habs’ 1979 Cup victory over the Rangers. The ’79 Cup was Dryden’s sixth in just nine seasons! He retired that spring and John Davidson, who was the only reason that series wasn’t a sweep, became my new favorite goalie.

But it wasn’t just Dryden’s hockey heroics that made him my hero. He believed in himself and his principles and was never afraid to stand up for what he believed to be just. As a top ranked Canadian amateur Dryden followed the then-unheard of route to the NHL via college hockey, studying and playing at Cornell. The NCAA today produces some of the best players in the world but in the 60’s it was where NHL dreams went to die. Dryden was not only a top goalie but also a scholar and made the choice to pursue his education as well as his NHL aspirations. Even today Dryden should be considered the poster boy for college recruiting and the concept of “having an education to fall back on” if pro sports don’t work out.

After the 1973 season Dryden tried to renegotiate his contract with the Canadiens and when they wouldn’t make a fair offer Dryden basically said “fine, good luck” and went back to law school. I was seven or eight by the time I really learned of and understood his move back in ’72 but even at that young age I realized that leverage was power. Dryden had it and didn’t hesitate in exercising it. Even with today’s escalated salaries and free agency most NHLers lack the backup plan (and gumption) to walk away from the NHL on principle. This is what made him my hero and established my goal of playing at an Ivy school and giving myself options. When my competitive playing career ended I never felt let down when I realized the NHL was not in my future because I had a Princeton degree to “fall back on”. I followed the footsteps of my childhood hero and built up leverage I would go on to use in a successful business career. Dryden’s path had worked for me and continues to do so today.

After his playing career Dryden became a best-selling author, writing the definitive narrative of a season on a professional team that knew it was the best in the world. He has been an outspoken supporter of kids’ rights. He served as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa and even mounted a bid for leadership of the Liberal party in Canada, which if successful I’m sure would have eventually led to him being Prime Minister of Canada. What else could one ask for from a sports star? From a public figure? From a hero? In an age where the word hero is thrown around like a beach ball at a rock concert, Dryden gives the term definition.

By the time I made my first trip to the old Montreal Forum in 1983 the Quebec Nordiques had (temporarily it turned out) replaced the Bruins as the Canadiens’ biggest playoff rival and a new generation of goalies was trying to carry the torch passed on by Dryden. But as I sat in my wooden Forum seat and soaked in history of the famed hockey temple, I couldn’t help but picture Ken Dryden standing in his crease, his chin resting on those old Cooper gloves. An appropriate image as it turned out, as Dryden was an icon of a hockey player who knew what he stood for even when it meant standing alone.


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3 Comments

  1. Hello to all,,,

    I am sure every one in goaliedom is looking for Ken Drydens web adress to as him questions. I was a aspiring goaltended at 7 in 1970 and saw him play and he has been my hockey hero ever since. I suppose I am standing in line for that too in a good way of course.

    I would like any info if I could to drop him a line and say thanks for the inspiration to play the greatest game on the planet. I still play at least 2-3 times a week and would like permission to use his number 29 on my jersy this season.

    Thank you all for the help in this matter and stay safe.

    Dale

  2. Wish I could help you Dale but I’d love to have Dryden’s personal email as well! My guess is he’d be flattered by anyone wearing 29 in his honor, and if not, well, just say it’s for Mike Palmateer.

  3. hi
    i’ve played as a Dryden clone for a few seasons now and its a dream come true for me!
    i play as (impersonate) 6 different goalies complete with gear, masks and styles of play.
    i can send u some pix if ur interested

    regardz


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