2020 oohic ken dryden

Ahead of his time

One of the greatest goaltenders of all time, Ken Dryden walked away from the NHL at just 31 to pursue his passions – as a lawyer, executive, educator, author and politician

Brandi Awad
June 12, 2021

Ken Dryden’s résumé speaks for itself.

He is a Hockey Hall of Famer, six-time Stanley Cup champion, five-time Vezina Trophy recipient, Calder Trophy winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, to name just a few accolades.

Despite playing just eight seasons in the National Hockey League, Dryden left a lasting mark on the game.

He began his pro hockey journey in 1970 as a wide-eyed rookie from Cornell University. After 33 games in the American Hockey League, Dryden got the call to join the Montreal Canadiens – a chance for the Islington, Ont., native to prove what he could do on the big stage.

He made just six appearances in the regular season before head coach Al McNeil made the decision to start the rookie in net against the Boston Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, had finished with the NHL’s best record and were heavy favourites.

Up against the likes of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, Dryden made a name for himself. He starred in the series to pull Montreal off one of the most memorable upsets in hockey history.

“When you’re playing, you’re just doing it,” Dryden explains when asked about the series. “You’re not making sense of any of it, you’re just playing. You’re faced with the next situation, and you’ve got to find a way of dealing with it.

“I never knew that I could do it, I just never knew that I couldn’t.”

Of course, Dryden went on to show that he could.

That season, he led the Habs past the Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy after posting a .914 save percentage in 20 playoff games.

“It didn’t take him long to make his mark,” former teammate Serge Savard says. “He came from nowhere and he was outstanding. What he achieved on the ice, nobody can match that up.”

For Dryden, the 1971 Cup triumph was just the beginning. He returned the following season and won Calder Trophy honours as rookie of the year, and earned the Vezina Trophy-Stanley Cup double with the Canadiens five times in seven seasons from 1972-79.

“It was just a team that really found itself and became something really special,” Dryden says of Montreal’s dynasty of the 1970s.

Of all his accomplishments on the ice, however, Dryden’s most meaningful didn’t come wearing the bleu, blanc and rouge. It was wearing the Maple Leaf during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union.

“That was beyond what any of us had experienced before,” he says. “You’d love to say that winning the series in 1972 was like winning the Cup, but your feelings tell you otherwise.

“It meant that much more to me than any of the others.”

Dryden got the call in Game 1 at the Montreal Forum, when the Soviets shocked an entire country with a 7-3 win. He took a second loss in Game 4 in Vancouver, but helped Canada stay alive with a 29-save performance in a 3-2 win in Game 6 in Moscow.

After Tony Esposito backstopped Canada to a series-tying win in Game 7, head coach Harry Sinden went back to Dryden for the deciding Game 8. With a nation captivated – an estimated 13.3 million Canadians watched the series finale – Dryden did his part with 22 stops in the 6-5 victory.

“Winning the last three games and Kenny being in net … it was special,” Savard says.

For all he did between the pipes, Dryden’s incredible legacy extends beyond his time on the ice. In 1979, during the prime of his career, Dryden decided to hang up his pads and begin a new adventure.

“I wanted to give myself some time and a chance to be good at something else,” Dryden says.

And just like he did against the Bruins in 1971, Dryden showed that he could.

He earned a law degree from McGill University.

He became a best-selling author, writing several books, including the critically acclaimed The Game – which is still highly regarded as one of the greatest hockey books of all time.

He moved into the front office, serving as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1997 to 2003.

He became a politician, serving as a Member of Parliament for York Centre from 2004 to 2011. He was also appointed to Prime Minister Paul Martin’s federal cabinet as the minister of social development.

And he became a teacher, lecturing at the University of Toronto and his alma mater, McGill.

“I always think that the next thing, whatever it is, might be more interesting than the last,” Dryden says. “They might be more exciting and challenging.”

Savard described Dryden as “ahead of his time.”

He recalled his teammate carrying textbooks under his arm one day in the dressing room. “We were saying ‘Where’s this guy from?’ He was different than all of us, but he was a very, very dedicated person. He’s been an example.”

Like his time on the ice, Dryden pursued excellence in everything he set out to do. His dedication to his craft is a skill he attributes to his many years in hockey.

“I loved just getting immersed in playing and focusing on just that particular moment that the game forces you to do,” he says. “And in the doing it, you’re getting better and that immerses you even more. I certainly learned that or experienced it most deeply in sports.”

Even now, at 73 years old, the game still shapes several facets of Dryden’s life. Whether it’s his morning ritual of watching hockey highlights, the new novel he’s working on or livestreaming his grandsons’ hockey games. For Dryden, that’s what makes receiving the Order of Hockey in Canada all the more special.

While he’s been recognized with jersey retirements, several awards and plenty of hardware, this one’s different from the rest.

“The all-star team or trophies, they’re for specific moments and particular years. The Hockey Hall of Fame is about a stretch of time, it’s about those years in the NHL and it’s an acknowledgment of that,” Dryden explains. “What this award is about, it relates to a lifetime in hockey.”

“It’s minor hockey, it’s college hockey, it’s the national team and then it’s the Canadiens. It’s our kids and they play hockey, so it’s watching them play. Then our kids started having kids and so it’s watching our grandsons play and that’s right up to the present. This is an award that doesn’t have to do with a specific team, a specific time, a specific moment – it’s really a lifetime experience.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada


Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada


Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327


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