Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In Montreal, destiny always seems to ride between the pipes

They honoured yet another Montreal great on Monday night, as Ken Dryden accepted the accolades of the crowd and listened to the words of friends and competitors alike, many who described him as that of a giant well beyond his considerable height.

If there is a team in pro sports that does these things better we’d like to see the evidence! The Habs must lead the league in ceremonial retirements and celebrations. Through sheer achievement alone, over the years they’ve had more than enough opportunities, whether it be from sweater retirements, Stanley Cup celebrations or recognition of the unique talents of those that have donned a sweater of the rouge, blanc et bleu.

In a perfect hockey bookend, the celebration for Dryden came only two days after Montreal fans had learned of the passing of another great goaltender Lorne “GumpWorsley, who passed away on Saturday.

In a way it’s fitting that the Gump exited just before the Dryden celebrations, Worsley was in the nets during some halcyon days of the Habs of his own. Worsley led the Canadiens to four Stanley Cups in seven seasons, a dominant team of the sixties and one that many Canadians remember fondly. Much like they celebrated the years that would follow through the seventies.

For Dryden the famous quote of McRae on the walls of the old Montreal Forum (and now at the Bell Centre) must have had special meaning, for no one has received a torch to hold high from so many legendary hands as Dryden did.

Playing goal in Montreal is the centre stage of an amazing revue, the crowd perhaps the most passionate, the media the most intrusive. Dryden held his torch as high as any other; a surprising addition to the team in the midst of playoff drive, the lanky graduate of Cornell loomed large on the NHL horizon for years to come. Originally drafted by the Bruins, he refused to report to their camp, his rights eventually traded to Montreal but his appearance not destined until the late stages of the 71 season and through those playoffs and beyond.

His star ascended just as Canada re-emerged into the world of International Hockey, his place on Team Canada of 1972 well documented on the numerous literary and video compilations of that era.

The New Years Eve match up with the Red Army a few years later in 75 is also forever etched in memories of not only Canadian hockey fans but from those from far off locales as well.

One of them was a presenter last night, Vladislav Tretiak, an opposite in goal but a fellow traveller in the fraternity spoke eloquently about his friend “a fantastic goaltender and a great man.”

And that perhaps sums up the man completely, in his eight years in the nets, he collected five Vezina trophies but more importantly led his team to six Stanley Cup victories before his unexpected retirement in 1979. His achievements were indicative of the domination exhibited by Montreal during that era of the NHL.

From there he moved on to many other projects, an author of some Canadian classics, a television commentator, a bureaucrat of sorts serving educational matters and now a politician with a desire to make a difference.

In the midst of all those projects Dryden did return to the game as an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997 a position which became steeped in that always plentiful Maple Leaf back room intrigue, He held on in Leaf land until 2004 when he resigned and began to work on his current career path of a politician.

An astute observer of the fabric of Canadian society, he has always been able to give a thoughtful response to emotional issues, a calming influence today, much as his place in the nets was then. At each turn since he left the game of hockey, he has provided the determination and dedication to the job that he gave on that frozen rink of water and dreams throughout the seventies.

Before the decade of the seventies would end he had left the game on his own terms, last night the fans of "The Game" honoured him on theirs.

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