Ken Dryden, also known as "the Giraffe" and "the Monster," used to run around suburban Toronto wearing a Boston Bruins sweat shirt and an improvised goaltender's mask that looked like a miniature bird cage. "Where's that kid from, ma'am?" the milkman asked Dryden's mother one day. "Mars?"
No one has asked the question lately. Ken Dryden, "little" brother of Buffalo's goaltending Dave Dryden, was hauled out of the minor leagues late last hockey season to perform for the Montreal Canadiens. When the major league season was over, Les Habitants had won everything in hockey that really counts—the Stanley Cup—and Dryden had been named most valuable player in the playoffs. In a city that usually reserves its praise for men with names like Jean-Claude and Rogatien and Michel, a distant descendant of poet John Dryden was king. As Montreal hockey writer Gilles Terroux wrote after the opening Stanley Cup series against the Boston Bruins: "La victoire du Canadien �tait sign�e de so main."
If, indeed, the victory was signed by Dryden's hand, it must have been his mitt hand. After one early game, Boston's Johnny (Pie) McKenzie said: "That hand of his is something else. We've caught him out of position at least a dozen times and shot for three-quarters of an empty net. Zap—that big mitt comes out of thin air. Twice I've had my stick in the air and was breaking into my goal-scoring dance when he's done that." Phil Esposito, the superstitious Boston star who cringes at the sight of crossed hockey sticks and old ladies in black, claimed half seriously that Dryden was using voodoo against him, and converted many a Boston fan into a believer. The 6'4" Dryden, playing at a lean 210 pounds, bounced up and down on the ice like a levitated spook and tormented the Bruins with prestidigitorial glove saves and ballerina kick saves that drew praise from such eminent goaltenders as Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante. The high level of his play continued through series wins over Minnesota's North Stars and finally over the Chicago Black Hawks in a torturous seven-game war that was decided on Chicago ice.
To many it seemed that Dryden had come out of nowhere to vex the other cup contenders, but in fact the Canadiens' front officers had been well aware of the 23-year-old goalie's ability from the beginning. They had hidden him away with the minor league Voyageurs, conveniently stationed in Montreal, and watched him combine good grades at McGill Law School with one of the lowest goals-against averages in the American Hockey League. Before that, Dryden had played goal for Canada's national team, and before that had made All-America three straight years at Cornell, losing only a handful of games in his entire college career. He was never a flash in the pan, although to many he must have seemed so.
In person, Dryden is not exactly the embodiment of the bold, supermasculine sports hero. He is shy and soft-spoken, gentle almost to excess. The intellectuality that he exudes is heightened by horn-rimmed glasses that he exchanges for contact lenses on the ice. His brown hair sprawls in anarchy about his head and is medium long, a la mode in professional sports. His face is framed in heavy pork-chop sideburns, and over the summer he grew a floppy brown mustache—since razored off. At times he is reminiscent of a young hirsute Alastair Sim playing the role of a kindly schoolmaster. His harshest epithet seems to be "Jeez Murphy," used only for extreme emphasis. He is not the sort of person who instills nervousness in his fellow man, at least until he puts on his skates, and a conversation with him can be a relaxing and rewarding experience.
Q. If you had to describe the last year of your life in one word, what would the word be?
Q. Satisfying! You're the envy of every Canadian and millions of Americans and at least one sportswriter, and it's only satisfying?
A. Well, everything happened so fast; maybe I haven't assimilated the whole experience yet. Maybe I could call it very satisfying.
Q. That's better. Ken, you just finished the year of years. You just did what no hockey rookie ever did before, and the most puzzling thing is that you kept right on studying for your law degree as though you weren't even playing hockey against the toughest teams in the world.