“I want everything to stop, I want to remember.”
That’s one of the quotes I chose for my Grade 12 yearbook entry, a quip from Ken Dryden‘s 1983 epic, The Game.
And I find myself meditating on it again in the wake of the moment this week when I met Ken Dryden and I spoke with him about hockey and the game and goaltending.
Blogging is how I stop things, it’s how I remember. I have hundreds of stories on DadCAMP about my kids because I stopped and remembered and wrote it down. I haven’t blogged seriously in years, but I just met Ken Dryden for crying out loud. I need to stop, because this day I want to remember.
Ken Dryden: My Golden Age Of Sports
There is something about Dryden that absolutely captivates me. It’s an odd obsession. I barely saw him play – my first live NHL game was halfway through his last season in the league, a 5-5 tie in January 1979 – but there’s something about him that elevates him as my favorite goalie of all time.
Maybe it’s because he was my first.
When I started playing goal in 1978, he was the goalie of my favourite team, a team in the midst of another dynasty of championships, and he wore that mask. That mask was just so mysterious and classic and perfect.
Also in The Game Dryden notes “nothing is as good as it used to be, and it never was. The “golden age of sports,” the golden age of anything, is the age of everyone’s childhood.”
So of course Dryden was going to be my favorite. He was a leader on the first “great team” of my childhood and the core memories of a golden age were cemented.
For Christmas in 1983 my grandparents gave me a copy of The Game. Dryden was writing that book while I was discovering the game and sitting in the stands at The Forum watching live NHL hockey for the first time. His career was ending, but my love of the game was just getting settled in.
Over the 4 yrs between his retirement and me getting the book, I’d become an all-star goalie on a local travel team and despite barely topping 5 feet and weighing about 115 lbs, I had a dream of making it to the big leagues.
That’s the note inside the book that has followed me through 4 apartments, 6 houses, 2 marriages, 2 kids, and 40 years of life.
I am a bit of a hoarder, sure, but even when I got rid of junk and decluttered – The Game stayed in the boxes that would get moved around because he was the first hero of my personal golden age of sports.
Ken Dryden Comes To Calgary
I found out by chance that Dryden was going to be in town about a week before his book signing for his newest effort, The Class. Tickets were only $20, there would be an autograph session, and I immediately wanted to go. Nobody in my personal circle was interested in the event, so I decided to go alone but the weather forecast for the talk lined up with the first massive snowstorm of the year.
I decided to wait until the day of to see if the weather got better. It did, and I went to get tickets, but it was sold out. A few hours later, poking through some open tabs on my computer, I refreshed the Wordfest window and – wouldn’t you know – tickets were available. Grateful for a second chance, I scooped it up and headed to the event.
Dryden is about the age of my parents. The Class is a book about growing up in the 50s and 60s in suburban Ontario surrounded with the opportunity of a post-war Canada ready to take lead on the world stage. He chronicles the paths that he and 35 classmates took through life. Some ended up doing research at Berkeley, some died too young, others settled in small towns as teachers, one got a law degree, slayed the Russians, won 6 Stanley Cups, and made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Dryden is an accidental athlete. He’s really an intellectual, a brilliant observer who just happened to have the skills needed to dominate the crease and landed at the right place at the right time as the Montreal Canadiens were about to go on another tear. His career in the NHL was blink and you miss it – 7 seasons over 8 years and then *poof* it was over.
Dryden’s talk avoided everything NHL (to be fair, his book is nothing about the NHL). At the end, when we got to ask questions, a few popped up about hockey. Dryden doesn’t wear his Stanley Cup rings, he’s not overly proud of his achievements on the ice, he doesn’t care much for hockey war stories, and his 50th anniversary look at the Summit Series was done mostly under protest.
I had chosen my seat in the venue carefully. I was at the back, on the aisle, so when it came for the autograph signing, I’d be near the front. I was 3rd to meet Mr Dryden and I was mumbling and fumbling and giddy.
I showed him the picture of me at The Forum in 1979. “This was the last time we saw each other,” I said. “A 5-5 tie against Philadelphia with Wayne Stephenson at the other end.”
Dryden squinted at my photo and nodded. I explained my grandfather had taken me to that game, and that he had written a note inside my copy of The Game, and I asked if he could sign under it.
I told him I was a goalie, but I always too short to be able to do the chin on the stick butt – a signature Dryden pose. He told me then about one of Montreal’s epic nights of ‘bringing back the ghosts’ where he was asked to go on the ice wearing equipment. So he donned Carey Price’s gear and tried to do his signature stance but couldn’t – Price’s gloves were too big and chunky.
We chuckled and then posed for a quick pic before he got to signing for the others in the line.
As I clipped down the steps of the library into the bright cold night I was noticeably shivering. Sure, the brisk -10 temperature had something to do with it, but just like a dog shakes off adrenaline after a stressful encounter I was shaking off the emotions of what had just happened.
My 9 year old self had come face to face with my golden age. I shook hands with an icon, I shared stories with greatness, a core memory became chiseled/locked/welded into place with a full circle moment. And, if I’m honest, it wasn’t just a nervous adrenaline shiver that I had, but my heart was swelling and I welled up the way teenage girls do when they see their heartthrobs. I mean it was a similar moment.
The poster I had stared at forever had become real and I was overwhelmed.