Up Close with Ken Dryden: From Goalie to Academic

(Photo by Calgary Sun)

“Up Close” is an All Habs Hockey Magazine feature that gives readers a back-stage pass to athletes, management and sports personalities via our exclusive interviews.  Previous guests have included HNIC’s Steve Porter, NASCAR’s Andrew Ranger, Habs prospect Mark MacMillan, Montreal’s Annakin Slayd and Canadiens’ assistant captain Josh Gorges. This week the spotlight is on Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender, Ken Dryden.

(Photo by Calgary Sun)
(Photo by Lyle Aspinal/Calgary Sun)

MONTREAL, QC. — In most households across Canada, the name Ken Dryden is mentioned in association with one of the best hockey goalies to ever strap on a pair of pads in the National Hockey League. To others across our vast country, the name is recognizable because of his second career sitting in the House of Commons from 2004 until 2011. However, to a select few individuals who are privileged enough to be enrolled in Dryden’s Canadian studies course “Thinking the Future to Make the Future” at McGill University, their professor’s name is correlated more closely to ideas of Canadian politics and multiculturalism, that can be found in their class’ course material.

In what is obviously a unique academic experience for his students, Dryden talked about the content that his course offers: “This is the second year I’ve taught this course at McGill. I went to McGill with the idea of it and it was kind of an experimental course because the approach of it was not to focus on learning what was and what is, but to apply that to what a future might be. So I divided up the course into different elements of the way in which we live. So whether it is the workplace, family, religion, health or healthcare or politics and public discourse and the different aspects of the way in which we live, and to have somebody in who’s an expert in each of those fields (is important). And it’s been fun. I enjoyed doing it last year and I’m enjoying it again this year.”

Dryden also speaks candidly about the personal aspirations he had while he was growing up and how he managed to achieve levels of success in two vastly separate domains: as hockey player and as a scholar: “All my life I played sports and all my life I was in school. I liked both. And if you like something, you get absorbed by it. You get absorbed in it. And you lose track of time because you just keep doing it. You can see when you’re not doing it well, you see when you are doing it well and you notice how you feel in each instance. You like how you feel when you’re doing it well, and you don’t like it very much when you’re not and you want to get better. And then you want to get better again. And once you develop a kind of taste for doing something well, you don’t lose it, you don’t leave it behind, because it haunts you. So to me, it wasn’t any different whether it was on the ice or off the ice. It’s just, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it well.”

In 1983, his book entitled “The Game” was published. This non-fiction work offers an account from Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens’ 1978-79-championship season. He writes about the challenges of meeting the on-ice demands of a hockey player while balancing off-ice goals and aspirations. He talked about what inspired him to write this book: “I read a lot of sports books while growing up, and during the time that I was playing, and some of them were very good but none of them described quite what I had experienced as a player, and the full life that you live when being a player is a part of it. And that’s natural. I mean, everyone takes in experiences differently. So I wanted to have my chance.”

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

When our conversation inevitably shifted exclusively to hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee explained why Carey Price is poised to be a special player for years to come: “Carey Price is a very good goalie. He’s as well positioned as anyone that I’ve seen to do really well in the future. For people like that, you just keep doing what you’re doing. There will be bad moments there will be times where what you’re doing you should be doing differently. But he appears to be strong enough and smart enough to know those moments. He has everything in him to be someone who will do well.”

Dryden also mentioned that he takes it as a compliment when commentators compare current goalies to him: “Usually what happens when someone brings it up as you do, the person bringing it up will sort of think ‘well wait a second, he’s early in his career. He hasn’t earned his place yet.’ That’s not what it feels like to me. For me, you just don’t know yourself as a player, I mean, you played but others can put you into some kind of perspective. I don’t have that perspective on myself.  I just know what I see on a television screen. And I see some nights, and whether it’s Carey Price or somebody else, just doing what seem to be impossible things. And then if at that moment the commentator says something about making a comparison to past goalies, and if I’m one of them, than it’s terrific. And it’s wonderful because what you see on the ice looks so good. So if people want to make that comparison, then thank you very much.”

While Dryden is currently focused on the responsibilities that come along with being a university professor, the six-time Stanley Cup champion admitted that he doesn’t follow hockey as closely as people might expect. As our conversation concluded he had the following to say: “I think I watch like most fans. It’s once or twice a year (if that) that I’ll watch a whole game. I’ll see bits and pieces and I go to one or two games a year, and it’s either here in Montreal or in Toronto, or occasionally Ottawa. And I’ll catch the sports at eleven. And so I roughly know who’s doing well, and I roughly know who isn’t. And about every two or three weeks, I’ll look at the standings and be surprised at somebody who I missed that is doing better than I thought or some teams that are doing worse than I thought. And I watch the first round of the playoffs; I watch the second round less, and the third round less and the finals less.”

After spending a good part of an hour with Dryden in an undisclosed location, it became clear to me why people have so much respect and appreciation for him. In addition to all the accolades he achieved while sporting the CH on his chest, he is also a true gentleman. Unlike a lot of the modern-day athletes that we see today, he gives thoughtful answers that offer insight and originality, a characteristic that has benefited him in many walks of life.

Thank you to the McGill Tribune, reporting on Ken Dryden in Volume 32 Issue 21.


  1. Last sentence in paragraph #6 reads: “So if people want to make that comparison, than thank you very much”. Counselor Dryden is using the classic “if – then” logical argument here to illiustrate his point. The corrected grammar should read “So if people want to make that comparison, then thank you very much”. As he was quoted for this interview, I am sure that was his intention in speaking this phrase.

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