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Stanley Cup FINALS : Can't Get Anything Past Him : Canadiens: Dryden may have been the best goalie ever, but hockey was only a game to him.

June 05, 1993|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONTREAL — A member of six Canadien Stanley Cup-winning teams yet never really one of the guys, it's no surprise Ken Dryden won't be drawn into discussing his career or that he declines to size up, in sound bites or concise sentences, Montreal's current Cup run.

"My phone starts to ring because radio people get a little more air time and (newspapers) get a little more space, and I become part of the circuit," he said from his home near Toronto. "I become 'the guy' today. It's too much. I have too many other things I'm doing with my life."

Life has taken many interesting turns for the Cornell-educated goaltender since he joined the Canadiens before the 1970-71 playoffs.

Exceptionally tall for a goalie at 6 feet 3, Dryden's awkward bearing belied his agility and reflexes. He led Montreal to a surprise Cup triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in 1971 and a year later was voted rookie of the year.

He took the 1973-74 season off to work toward his law degree, then returned to win four more Cups before retiring at age 31. His .750 winning percentage in the finals remains a record, and his 24 victories in the finals is second only to Jacques Plante's 25.

"Certainly, he had a great team in front of him, but in some ways, that's tougher for a goalie because he's not seeing as many shots and it's tougher to keep your concentration in the game," said former Montreal defenseman Brian Engblom, an analyst on King radio broadcasts. "He always focused, even though he might go six, eight minutes without a shot. He'd still be there to make the big save."

Said Larry Robinson, whose name is also on six Montreal Cups: "He was, and is, the greatest goalie to play this sport. He sometimes was the forgotten man on the ice because he was so good. I can remember times we won the Cup and people would mention (Guy) Lafleur or whoever, and you'd look back and see all the big stops Ken had made in key situations."

Still, he was never part of the locker-room chatter.

"You could sit down and talk for half an hour but afterward, you felt you really didn't know him," Engblom said. "He was a little removed, more than he was one of the guys. He was always observing, always taking mental notes, so I'm not surprised he's written a couple of books."

Dryden, 45, this week finished writing his fourth book. The first three were about hockey, one a recollection of the 1972 Challenge Series between Canada and the then-Soviet Union and the second an account of his experience playing hockey.

His latest effort, however, explores the life of a man he knew at Imperial Oil Co. in Canada, an ordinary, 40-year-old with a wife and child trapped in an unstable economy and victim of events beyond his control.

"Those of us of the university-educated generation were trained that if we put our minds to it and applied ourselves we can change things, that things would be in our hands, but he never imagined them to be in his hands," Dryden said. "People like him are being nailed now. . . . It's been fascinating for me. Lots of things I imagined at the start didn't turn out to be true."

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