Skip to main content
Original Issue


The young lawyer-goalie's Canadien clients have a shaky case, but with Ken to scare the prosecution they may win

To be born tocreate, to love, to win at games is to be born to live in time of peace. Butwar teaches us to lose everything and become what we were not. It all becomes aquestion of style.—CAMUS

Ken Dryden, theMcGill University Law School student who moonlights as a goaltender for theMontreal Canadiens (see cover), contemplates the message his wife Lynda hashung over the desk in their apartment. "War, as I interpret it, is thevariable in all men," he says. "For me, the war is hockey. I cannot lethockey make me what I am not."

Come along for awhile to see how the battle goes, for Dryden is that rarest of individuals insport, the man who does what cannot be done. Let Boston win the National HockeyLeague's regular-season race in the East by 20 points. Let Chicago do the samein the West. In the heart of every Bruin and Black Hawk fan will be the' secretfear that this one tall, idealistic, implacable student will rise out of theMontreal nets to rob them of the Stanley Cup, even as he did last year. Itcould happen, it could happen. This season Kenneth Wayne Dryden has been theonly bulwark between the Canadiens and certain ruin. The team that looked sostrong in October is staggering in February. But the Canadiens have lost onlyfive of the 40 games Dryden has played. With his replacements in goal, theCanadiens have lost eight of 13 games. When Dryden came down with a backailment at Christmastime, the Canadiens were battling Boston and New York forfirst place in the East. When he returned to the lineup three weeks later, theywere tumbling toward fourth place. Last week it was the old, magical Dryden whobraked the Canadiens' slide as he saw them through two victories and two tieson the road.

Old? He is 24 andstill classed as an NHL rookie. Obviously he has not succumbed to the starsyndrome, a malady that often devours the young. Except for an unlistedtelephone number, Dryden's life is that of the struggling student dependent onsomeone else for his funds, not the pro earning a $35,000 salary.

The Drydens, whomet at Cornell, live in a sparsely furnished, one-bedroom high-rise apartmentin the Notre Dame de Gr√¢ce section of Montreal. The only piece of realfurniture in the living room is a color television-stereo complex given Ken asLife Saver of the Month for his Stanley Cup heroics. The dining-room table is acard table in disguise, and all the chairs fold up. "You don't buyfurniture impulsively," Dryden says. "A piece of furniture lasts atleast 10 years, so why make the wrong decision and regret it all thattime."

When he leavesthe apartment for games at the Forum or classes at McGill, Ken drives off inone of the two cars he also won for his cup performances. Most of the Canadienspay $35 a month to park in a covered area across the street from the Forum. NotDryden. He cruises the streets until he spots a free parking place. At McGillhe parks directly in front of the entrance to the law school—and parksfree.

Dryden carries afull load of five courses, but he often misses lectures because of his travelswith the Canadiens. "It's not that much of a problem," he says,"because I can borrow someone's notes and make copies of them." Unlikemost of his classmates, though, Dryden does not use the copying machine at thelaw-school library. "It's 10¢ a page there," he says, "and there'sa place down the hill, off campus, where it's only 5¢ a page—and they make thecopies for you. It all adds up, you know."

Nor is Dryden aspendthrift when it comes to clothes. His only major purchase so far this yearhas been a calf-length raccoon coat that set him back $80. "Lynda and Ifound it in the window of a secondhand store down in Old Montreal," herecalls. "You've got to shop around these days to get what youwant."

Dryden wentshopping for a pair of boots last week in Montreal and must have tried on 25before deciding which to buy. "What's the problem, sir, can't you affordthese boots?" asked the frustrated salesman as Dryden headed for the door,empty-handed. Ken shrugged. "I hate to shop," he said. "It's sofinal."

Although hiscontemporaries in sports would argue with him, Dryden does not believe there isanything particularly unusual about his attitudes toward life. "Look,"he says, "most people our age are living the way we are. Most people haveto struggle. Why not us? Let's see how we can live this way. We're probablygoing to have a fair amount of money in the future, but that doesn't mean weshould be wild with our money now."

Dryden has alwaysbeen a sensible human being, except maybe when he chose to become a goaltenderin the first place. He started in the nets in Islington, Ontario when he wasfive. His father, Murray, built goals from two-by-fours and chicken wire andplaced them in the driveway so the boys in the neighborhood could play ballhockey. "I played one goal, and my brother Dave [now with the BuffaloSabres] played the other," Ken says. "That's all there was to it."The Drydens moved to a bigger house a year later, and Murray Dryden had thewhole backyard paved in the interests of bigger and better ball-hockeygames.

"We hadtournaments every Saturday," Ken recalls. "Rubber balls were crummy onthe pavement, but tennis balls were great. They stung more, too." Drydenstarted playing organized hockey in an Atom League when he was seven years old,with Humber Valley of Toronto's West End. The next year he played for theHumber Valley team in a Peewee League, even though he was two or three yearsyounger than his teammates. "My father did that intentionally," Kensays. "His feeling was that you improve more by playing against oldercompetition. And I always managed to do all right with the older boys."

Dryden playedgoal for Humber Valley teams until he was 15, then moved into Junior"B" hockey with the Etobicoke Indians. After his first season withEtobicoke he was drafted by Montreal. "I remember the night well," saysScotty Bowman, now the Montreal coach but then a scout for the team. "Weknew about him from Roger Neilson, our Toronto-area scout, but we were sort ofconcerned about his ambition. He kept talking about going to school instead ofplaying Junior 'A'." The Montreal management debated the Dryden questionfor hours. Finally, Sam Pollock, the general manager, told Scout Claude Ruel tophone Neilson for one final report on Dryden. "Neilson told him that Drydencould be the best goalie in Junior 'A' that next year," Bowman says. WhenRuel relayed Neilson's comment to Pollock, the Canadiens promptly draftedDryden.

"They wantedme to go to Peterborough, Ontario," Dryden says. "They had a strongteam there but needed a second goaltender. But my schooling was the hang-up. Iwas planning to attend Grade 13, the most important academic year in Canada,and there would be a lot of pressure on me to do well in the classroom. I couldnot see how living away, playing hockey and trying to go to school inPeterborough would work, so I stayed in Toronto."

Besides playinggoal for Etobicoke, Dryden also was an All-City forward on his schoolbasketball team. In fact, when he finished Grade 13, several Canadian collegesand at least one American school approached him with scholarship offers onwhich he could combine hockey and basketball: Michigan Tech had a most temptingdeal. "They told me I could play basketball my freshman and sophomore yearsand then, when Tony Esposito graduated, I could switch over to hockey." ButKen seemed intent on attending Princeton. Later, at the urging of some friends,he visited Cornell and forgot about Princeton.

"Despite whatpeople think, I did not have a scholarship at Cornell," Dryden says."Oh, I got $200 each year for an honorary scholarship, but that barelyaccounted for the currency exchange." So he worked. As a freshman Drydenwas a waiter and dishwasher in a fraternity house and earned his room andboard. The next three years he lived off campus in a private residence and didodd chores to work off his room and board. During the summers he didconstruction work in Ithaca, destruction work on Toronto buildings and acombination of both in Alaska.

On the ice atCornell, Dryden was something of a legend. In three years he played in onlyfour losing games, and his goals-against average was a microscopic 1.60."It was pretty easy behind the bench when he was in the goal," says NedHarkness, general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, who was the Cornell coachduring Dryden's varsity years.

All this timeDryden heard nothing from the Canadiens. "I never even knew they werealive," he says, "until the end of my senior year after a game atBoston College. Someone told me that Toe Blake was in the stands watchingme." Later, Sam Pollock drove down to Ithaca, watched Dryden win anothergame and told him that the Canadiens would be in touch with him after theStanley Cup playoffs. During those 1969 playoffs Dryden attended a sportsbanquet in Boston, where the Canadiens happened to be playing the Bruins."I called Mr. Pollock and asked him if he had an extra ticket," Drydensays. Pollock gave Dryden a seat six rows behind the Montreal bench, alongsidesome of the team's executives.

"I was a bigBruin fan then," Dryden says, "and I could barely restrain myself. Ikept wanting to jump up and cheer for Boston." Dryden had been accepted atHarvard Law School and, as he says, "I really wanted to go there." Theone big drawback was that he could not have played hockey. Meanwhile, theCanadian national team had offered him a three-year contract that included fulltuition at the University of Manitoba at Winnipeg. Pollock was talkingminor-league hockey, nothing more.

Dryden eventuallydecided to play with the national team and attend law school in Winnipeg."When I phoned Mr. Pollock," Ken says, "he was stunned. I'm surethat he thought I was using the law school approach as a lever to get moremoney." If anything, Dryden's seriousness about the pursuit of lawimpressed Pollock, and when the national team folded a year later, he offeredDryden an opportunity to combine hockey and law school in Montreal. Ken jumpedat the chance. Last season he was a full-time law student at McGill and aweekend goaltender for the Montreal Voyageurs of the American Hockey Leagueuntil early in March, when the Canadiens realized they would get no Stanley Cupwith the goalies then playing. Enter Dryden. Exit Boston, Minnesota andChicago.

While Dryden hasmanaged to combine his two careers with no apparent difficulty (he has twoB-pluses, two Bs and one C, as well as a 2.14 goals-against average so far thisseason), he feels that the hockey world regards him with suspicion. "Theyhave this great myth that anyone who has anything else to do obviously does notapproach hockey with the proper frame of mind, but to me it's the exactopposite. Hockey as a 24-hour job, 365 days a year, is absurd."

Still, mosthockey people do believe that Dryden will play two or three more years and thensettle into a padded chair in a law office somewhere in Ontario. "JeezMurphy," Ken says, "that's such a defensive attitude, based on faultyreasoning. What they are doing is demeaning athletics. They're saying, 'Ofcourse he won't stay around very long because he can do something else.'Certainly there are more meaningful things in life, but at the same time hockeyis enjoyable and a challenge. That's why I play it. Believe me, I couldn't livewith law alone."

What Drydenenjoys most about hockey is the opportunity it gives him to do independentresearch on subjects not involved with either law or hockey. He thirsts forknowledge and considers everyone a research subject. "Working for RalphNader last summer taught me that you never know enough about anything,"Dryden says. "You can learn something from everyone."

One day last weekhe was sitting in the trainer's room at the Forum, getting a back treatmentfrom Bob Williams, who used to work at Indiana University. Williams began totalk about Doc Counsilman and Hobie Billingsley, the swimming and divingcoaches, respectively, at Indiana. "I had heard a few things about both ofthem, about their coaching methods," Dryden said after his session withWilliams, "and now I know a lot more."

At dinner thatnight in Montreal's Café Martin, Dryden wanted to talk shop with Rohmann, thema√Ætre d'. He wanted to know all about the beef, the lobster bisque, the profitper plate, the freezer facilities, the help. How are serving sizes decided?What nights are busiest? At what time does the dinner crowd arrive? Do bestnights vary by seasons? Who sits upstairs and who sits downstairs? "Younever know when this information will come in handy," he said.

Dryden's restlessmind never stops probing, even when he is on the ice. Some nights, particularlywhen the Canadiens are playing one of those expansion teams that seem to shootmarsh-mallows instead of pucks, Ken has plenty of time to case the arena."I look at the scoreboard, read the message board, everything," hesays. ("At Cornell he used to keep track of how much popcorn the vendorssold," claims Ned Harkness.) Afterward he briefs his teammates and thepress on the outcomes of the other games. "Detroit tied Los Angeles onDionne's goal in the late minutes of the game," he reported to one and allthe other night. "The Wings were down 4-2 before they rallied."

But Dryden praysthat he will not be watching the message board some night when Bobby Hull orBobby Orr or Rod Gilbert fires the puck at him from 25 feet. Flash word thatSaks Fifth Avenue has slashed the price of its extra-warm raccoons and youmight just get him to flub one. Maybe. Hockey may not make Dryden what he isnot, but when the magic is working he is the essence of hockey.