In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Montreal Canadiens had no room for under performers on their team. On the famous club's roster, there were enough talented and highly experienced players to put together several teams. Like all top teams, the old guard gradually retired and the team had to be reinforced with young players. But rookies spent as much time in the press box as on the ice. When in the spring of 1971 Dryden was called up from a farm club, he thought of it as a reward. If you showed good results on a farm team, you would get to suit up for more pro matches. Dryden appeared in six games and surprised everybody by putting on a superb performance, but also by helping the team to win six straight games.
But nobody expected to see the young goaltender in the playoff series. In the first round, the Montreal Canadiens were scheduled to go up against the Boston Bruins, who had set several NHL records that season. Boston had Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge and Johnny Bucyk. And they had another advantage - playing on home ice. In such a situation, coaches usually prefer to rely on experienced players, yet Al MacNeil took a chance on his novice. And Ken defeated the Bruins almost single-handedly. The series lasted for seven games, and Dryden rescued his team after quite a few sloppy plays and from goals that should have been scored. The Boston players were frustrated time and again by the goalie who shouldn't have been in the playoffs. Phil Esposito, who had scored 76 goals in 78 regular-season games, couldn't believe that "the giraffe" had allowed him to score only three goals in the entire series.
After accomplishing the near impossible in the first round, the Montreal Canadiens eventually took the six-game series from the Minnesota North Stars and the next series of seven games from the Chicago Black Hawks to capture the Stanley Cup. Dryden's contribution was a major one, and his goals-against average was almost unparalleled in the league for a rookie. It came as no surprise when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most outstanding performer.
During his short first season in the NHL, Ken Dryden demonstrated brilliant technique as a goalie and an ability to win even in unfavorable situations - qualities acquired with experience. The Canadiens management was convinced and Dryden was made the team's main goaltender. During the 1971-72 season, he displayed ever more self-assurance and played 64 games with a goals-against average of 2.24. He was elected rookie of the year and later became the first goalie in the NHL to get the Conn Smythe Trophy and then the Calder Trophy. The next year, Dryden was firmly established as the Montreal Canadiens' top goaltender and at the end of the season was awarded another prize, the Vezina Trophy, as the league's best goalie.
But after winning three individual prizes and two Stanley Cups in three incomplete seasons in the NHL, Dryden suddenly declared that his career was over at age 26. He joined the law offices of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt in Toronto as an articling student with an annual salary of $7,500.
The next season, the Montreal Canadiens' three remaining goalies took turns in the net and their performance left much to be desired. The season was over for the Montreal Canadiens when they were knocked out by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Between seasons, the two parties came to a financial compromise and Dryden returned to the Montreal Canadiens.
From the 1975-76 season up until the end of his career in 1979, Dryden once again performed superbly. The proof is in his remarkable individual stats. He never exceeded the goals-against mark of 2.30 per game and his team won the Stanley Cup four times in a row. Dryden was awarded the Vezina Trophy four more times. Five times he was included on the First All-Star Team and once on the Second All-Star Team. In his career, he had 46 shutouts and his overall average was an impressive 2.24. The 1976-77 season was his best ever - 56 games, 10 shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.14 in regular-season play and 14 games, four shutouts and an incredible 1.56 in playoff games. Those were the days when the Canadiens forwards were on a scoring streak. Ken gained a reputation for his exceptionally quick reflexes and his brilliant work with the goalie stick. He even got 23 assists during his career. But the most important statistic of all is the six Stanley Cup wins in eight seasons.
At the 1980, 1984 and 1988 Olympics, Dryden was a TV hockey commentator. He has taught at the University of Toronto and worked in the Ministry of Education. Dryden participated in a criminal investigation at the University of Moncton, where student players beat up the referee on the ice. Over a period of 18 years, he has written a number of books that were bestsellers: The Game and Home Game on the subject of hockey and In School on the subject of education. He also played an active part in the creation of a TV series on the origin of hockey in Canada.
Dryden has a lot of admiration for the game that Canadians are proud to call their invention. He regards it as a cultural heritage, cherishes its traditions and believes that hockey made a contribution to the formation of the national character. Dryden is perhaps one of the brightest lights in the modern world of hockey, and that is why in 1997 he was invited by the Toronto Maple Leafs to help rebuild the team. In three short years, the new president has managed to transform a mediocre franchise into one of the league's most aggressive and highest-scoring teams.