Monday, August 15, 2011

Memory Monday: The Most Interesting Man in Goal

Popular commercials for the beer brand Dos Equis introduce us to a hypothetical Most Interesting Man in the World. Ken Dryden may not get questioned by police just because they find him interesting, and his blood may not smell like cologne, but as far as hockey players go, he just may be the most interesting man to ever lace up a pair of skates.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he played his junior hockey in the NCAA for the Big Red at Cornell University, where he also earned a Bachelor of Arts in History. Over three years there, he put up an absolutely incredible 76-4-1 record, with a GAA well under 2.00 each season. In 2010, he would have his college number, 1, retired at Cornell, making him one of only two players to have ever received such an honour.

You may all be aware that the Montreal Canadiens are the only NHL team Dryden played for, but did you know they aren't the team that drafted him? He was actually a draft choice of the dreaded Boston Bruins, taken 14th overall in 1964 (before his college days) and the only goaltender selected that year. A draft day trade sent him and Alex Campbell to the Habs for Paul Reid and Guy Allen - a deal the Bs would surely want a mulligan on. Of course, 1964 was well before the days of Twitter or Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger breaking deals live on air, so that day, Dryden received only a single call from his agent, informing him he was to be a Canadien. As crazy as it may sound, he only learnt that he had been involved in a transaction nearly 10 years after the fact!

After debuting with the Canadiens in 1970-71, Dryden's numbers speak for themselves. Over 8 seasons, he averaged a 2.24 GAA with a 258-57-74 record, earning him a Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, followed by 5 Vezina Trophy wins as the league's top goalie. In the post-season, he retired with a steallar 80-32 record, making the playoffs every season as a Hab and winning 6 Stanley Cups. Not a bad average.

Certainly, the only thing keeping Dryden out of the conversations about the greatest hockey players of all time is his short career-span, as he retired at just 31 years of age. You see, if he had simply played into his late 30s and retired to become a hockey coach or general manager, he would have been simply following the script. Not something The Most Interesting Man in Goal would do at all!

To understand him as a person, we need to jump back to the middle of his playing career, being the 1973-74 season. Unhappy with a contract offer from Habs GM Sam Pollock, Dryden held out. But it would not be fitting for a man of such mystique to simply find another league to play in or to ask for a trade. No, instead he became a full-time student at McGill University, earning enough credits to round out the requirements for a degree in Law, while articling at the law offices of Osler, Hoskin, and Harcourt in Toronto. It looked like his NHL career might be over.

But not so fast. When he returned to the NHL in 74-75, his game was understandably off a bit, resulting in the worst season of his career. But the Most Interesting Man in Goal doesn't take failure lightly, and so he rebounded with his career best year in 75-76, finishing with a 2.03 GAA and a sparkling 1.92 playoff goals against average en route to another Stanley Cup... the first of four consecutive Cups to cap his career!

With two degrees in his back pocket, Dryden's career extended well beyond the rink. His first post-hockey career was in writing, author or co-author of five books. His most famous is the autobiographical The Game, but his talents went beyond retelling his own life story, as he had a fictional novel entitled The Moved and the Shaken published in 1993.

Dryden also dipped into television commentating, working three Winter Olmypic Games, and most well known for his coverage of Team USA's 1980 Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union. This role would allow for his acting debut, as he played himself in the 2004 movie about the American conquest, Miracle.

Getting back into hockey more directly, Dryden served as President of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1997 to 2003. Seen as an intelligent but controversial leader, when the club changed direction and made his role less important, he left to take on yet another new challenge.

That challenge, as most know, was politics. After winning his riding as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2004, Dryden was named the country's Minister of Social Development, being seen as a positive influence and even potential party leadership candidate. Dryden was re-elected in 2006, but the Liberal Party lost power. Following the resignation of former head Paul Martin, Dryden was considered one of the favourites to take over the Party by the general population, but could not garner enough support to remain competitive with the other candidates. Dryden would eventually lose his seat in 2011 during the election which saw the Conservatives earn a majority government.

The NHL Star / 6'4" Giant Goalie Pose Inventor / Author / Actor / Commentator / President / Lawyer / Historian / Politician was undoubtedly very deserving of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, having his number retired by the Habs in 2007, and - of course - being named our Most Interesting Man in Goal... well... today. Now that he is out of the political spotlight for the time being, the world anxiously awaits the next move of a man who has never forgotten to stay thirsty.

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