There are hockey books.. and then there is Ken Dryden’s The Game.
The Game is former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden’s memoir of his final season playing for the Montreal Canadiens in their quest for a fourth straight Stanley Cup.
I’ve read my fair share of hockey books over my long reading career. While many have been just OK, few have been exceptional – Ken Dryden’s The Game is one of those exceptional reads. Most of the hockey books I’ve read are either more of a play-by-play recounting of the subject’s career or filled with whacky and over-the-top stories. I tend to lean toward the ones with unbelievable stories rather than the few that read like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s abysmal Total Recall commentary track. I believe that is truly what sets this apart from other sports books. Dryden is more concerned with who his teammates are as people first – what drives them and sets them apart from any other Joe Schmoe holding a stick and flying across the rink.
Dryden digs into his own psyche and explains how everything happening both on and off the ice would effect him mentally. He discusses his fears and insecurities and even a crisis of identity in believing that his teammates are just so good that his role in a win or loss feels largely irrelevant at times. This is of course painfully modest considering he backstopped the Habs to six cups in eight years while collecting five Vezina trophies in the process. This isn’t uncommon though. You would be surprised to see how little faith people often have in themselves or their performance.
He discusses his controversial decision to retire at only 31 – an age where most goalies are only just hitting their prime. Still feeling good and on the top of his game, Dryden decides to go out before everything falls apart. This seems to be a sticking point for many people when discussing his legacy. I don’t get that, honestly. Look at all he accomplished in just eight seasons! What left is there to prove? Dryden is far from egotistical. He speaks honestly about losing his drive to continue on as well as his fear of being traded. It’s not like he didn’t have other options in terms of finding a career after hanging up his pads (Dryden would go on to become a hockey executive as well as a member of parliament).
If you ever wanted to truly get into the mind of an athlete – warts and all – I would struggle to think of a more honest and introspective read than Ken Dryden’s The Game The fact that it was shortlisted in 2012 for CBC’s Canada Reads debates should tell you something about how revered it is.
FYI – I read the 30th Anniversary Edition. There are two post scripts – one written in 2003 for the 20th anniversary and one written in 2013 for the 30th. Neither really offer up that much and feel tacked on to sell copies.