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Old cast is history but The Game isn't

Dryden's iconic book still relevant despite years decj

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The cast of characters has mostly faded into hockey history by now, little more to fans under 45 than names in a book or images on scratchy, standard-def video.

So truth be told, there likely will be something lost in translation for young readers of Ken Dryden's The Game as he recalls fellow stars of the 1970s, no matter how elegant and accurate the descriptions.

But the small miracle of the book, set in 1979 and published in '83, is that three decades later, most everything else about it remains relevant to 21st-century readers, thanks to its razor-sharp observations about sports and life.

That is what has helped it maintain its "undisputed title" -- as Bill Simmons puts it in a foreword written for a new 30th-anniversary edition -- as the greatest hockey book ever written and one of the best about any sport.

Does its staying power surprise the author, now 66 and coming up on 35 years since his playing career ended with a victory over the Rangers in the 1979 Stanley Cup final?

It does not. He read the book six months ago for the first time since he wrote it and found it still works.

"When you're writing about a life, then it doesn't get dated," Dryden said Tuesday in Manhattan, an interview arranged by Art Kaminsky, whose pioneering career as a sports agent began with Dryden. Kaminsky died Wednesday.

"Guy Lafleur is dated if it's just Guy Lafleur. But if it's about Guy Lafleur and fitting into a team and where a great player comes from and all the rest of it, that's timeless stuff... The names change and some details change, but I think it holds."

The above quote is a tiny sliver of a larger thought from a guy who speaks and writes in paragraphs that are difficult to pare down or summarize.

You have to read the book to appreciate fully his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including celebrity, fear of injury, business, hockey fighting and the dastardly Philadelphia Flyers, one subject that regularly cracks the shell of his Canadian politeness.

Dryden wrote the book after leaving the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL at 31, having won six Cups in eight seasons. Later, he filled a variety of roles, from running the Maple Leafs to serving as a Member of Parliament. These days, he teaches a course he conceived about Canada's future at McGill and the University of Calgary.

For all of his accomplishments, though, The Game is a lasting legacy.

In the book, Dryden writes with passion and insight about the Bruins and Boston Garden, a pivotal venue as both a collegian and a pro, saying among other things, "To me, Boston Garden is like a dishevelled friend."

I asked what he thought of the Rangers and Islanders of that era, and of playing in their buildings.

He said he found Rangers fans "kind of in-between" the "rabid and nasty" Flyers fans and Bruins fans, who were "rabid, with a little twinkle in their eyes."

He said Mike Bossy was the final piece in making the Islanders a force. "Bossy could give you the special play," he said. "The rest of the team needed 10 shots to score; Bossy needed one shot to score."

Here is a nugget from his treatise on the life of goaltenders: "Playing goal is not fun. Behind a mask, there are no smiling faces, no timely sweaty grins of satisfaction. It is a grim, humorless position, largely uncreative, requiring little physical movement, giving little physical pleasure in return.

"A goalie is simply there, tied to a net and to a game; the game acts, a goalie reacts."

Like he said: timeless.

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 C15

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