Puck Readers 2010 : "The Game" by Ken Dryden

Ken Dryden graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 1972, during his rookie year. He went on to win the Calder Trophy later that spring. He received the Conn Smythe the year previously in May 1971, after playing only 6 regular season games and 20 playoff games en route to his first Stanley Cup. He also was selected five times as the Vezina Trophy winner, between 1973 and 1979. 


I finished Ken Dryden's "The Game" over the weekend. I think I most enjoyed how it captured a specific moment in hockey history, with the waning years of the NHL dominance by the Montreal Canadiens, but also addressed recurring issues (some controversies) that we see in NHL conversations still today. For this, the first of the summer's "virtual book club meetings" I've decided to list out some thoughts I had, that might draw some reactions or observations or opinions from the rest of you, just to get the conversation going.

If you haven't finished the book yet, no need to wait before joining in. (And truth be told you don't even need to have read it. This isn't high school.)

Finally, by all means, please start up any and all new subjects, in that I will certainly have missed many through the limits of my personal puck-reading lens.



1 - How striking and meaningful it was to read so many names of players on Ken Dryden's Canadiens, and as opponents around the League, in the 1970s who are now, 30 years later, well-known as coaches or GM's today. The most frequent is Jacques Lemaire (a long-time award winning NHL coach, most recently with the Minnesota Wild and had two stints with the NJ Devils), but also Larry Robinson (just named assistant Coach to John MacLean for the Devils) and Paul Holmgren (Flyers GM, current boss to Chris Pronger), for starters. Similarly, I thought his profile of young 40-ish Scotty Bowman, his coach, was really remarkable. Bowman is the father of the the current Blackhawks' GM Stan Bowman and also serves as the Hawks' senior advisor. What were some anecdotes or portrayals that struck you as insightful or memorable? 


Larry Robinson challenging the Broad Street Bullies in 1976. (via

2 - Did you catch his comments on penalties and the implicit rule of a referee's discretion, particularly as it applied to the Philadelphia Flyers, who were the only other team to win the Cup while Dryden played with the Canadiens (in 1974 and 1975)? Were his observations objective or reflect some bitter rivalry despite his lawyerly tone? Some sentences could have been deja vu for this past post-season, a la Chris Pronger 2010. Thinking about his observations on violence, penalties and the rules, do you think that the "standards" have changed enough to address his concerns or is it still the "same old, same old"? 

3 - I really enjoyed his observations on what the emergence of Soviet Hockey did for the game and how the Canadian hockey establishment was forced to adjust and improve. How much of that "Canadian tradition" do you think still holds back some NHL teams, while others have moved on and succeeded? Or has the Canadian style emerged again as the Soviet style's limitations were exposed? Have the Official Rules of the NHL game changed to make it more "Soviet" or "Canadian" than it was in the 70s? 

4 - I thought his comments on the role of money, contracts and the changes that had just begun in the 70s, were fascinating and still relevant, especially as he described the connection between management and players, and the issues of trades and the advent of the draft. He alluded to discovering that the expansion of the sport into non-traditional US markets was an ongoing controversy even back to the 1920s, and still current in the 70s. Ya don't say?

Even in the 2003 chapter "Overtime," he revisited the influence of money by describing the way the kids who are drafted then were putting their signing bonus toward a sophisticated BMW as their car of choice. (Was that Fleury, Staal, or others of the amazing '03 class he had in mind?) This was written pre-lockout; a lot more has changed since then, including an even younger age permitted for free agency than the 31 years that it was when he was writing. How does that change the culture of the sport in 2010 from the "good old days" - especially in light of how this week's entry draft and the variety of trades anticipated is portrayed and analyzed? Is the system, especially related to the salary cap, more fair now? Does it make hockey better?

5 -  I was most surprised by the overall tone of the book. He seems to spend most of the book in a somber, cynical, almost melancholy mood. He talks about finding motivation, the waiting, and the challenge of mental preparation, at great length. There seems to be a lot of regret and doubt throughout. I didn't laugh often (Maybe I am just too removed from the dressing room antics he described to find them more than slightly amusing). Though there are a few scattered "breakthroughs" of genuine joy on his part, they really stand out as a result. How did you read the mood of the book and was it how you thought he would write?


Last - I found a great post up at Habs' SBN blog Eyes on the Prize that looks at a specific 1971 playoff game, between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, that turned the tide of the 1971 post season. This was perhaps the one game that marks "the arrival" of Ken Dryden. The post concludes with this 8-minute video of the highlights of the game that started it all. I so enjoyed seeing all these names in action after reading the book and knowing the back-story and the eight-year career that followed.

There are so many other topics Dryden covered that I found interesting and helpful to understanding why the hockey is the way it is in 2010. What else did you learn or remember that informed you about professional hockey as it is played today?

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