Habs legend Ken Dryden back in Montreal to strike different chord

He may be as close as they come to a Canadian Renaissance Man: Ken Dryden has been a lawyer, politician, author, broadcaster, business executive and — lest some elsewhere may forget, but few here ever will — legendary goalie who helped the Habs win six Stanley Cups.

One of the rare individuals to be both an officer of the Order of Canada and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Dryden is heading back to Montreal. But he’s not coming here to talk hockey or politics. In what probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given his eclectic background, he will be the guest speaker on Sept. 27 for the gala opening of the 38th season of Allegra, the Montreal chamber music ensemble.

Aside from this opening fundraiser, Allegra will be performing six free concerts this season that celebrate women composers. In addition, nine years ago, Allegra artistic director and pianist Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg launched the interactive Bach Before Bedtime series of paying concerts, designed to introduce children to classical music.

The connection between classical music and sport may seem strange to some, but not to Dryden.

“I’ve known Dorothy for a while, and I remember being in her home and listening to her rehearse with some of her musicians,” says the Toronto-based Dryden. “The sound was just so terrific, and what struck me was the teamwork involved in these instruments coming together.”

Regardless of the venue or the performance genre, the key for Dryden has always been teamwork.

Although his mother and grandmother played the piano, Dryden acknowledges that he didn’t grow up with classical music. But it struck him while working on his 1995 book In School: Our Kids, Our Teachers, Our Classrooms (with Roy MacGregor), that there has been less and less time devoted to the arts as well as phys-ed in high school — which he feels is wrong, because both are vital to all around development.

“One of the things that is so amazing about being involved in sports and the arts is that you almost always get things wrong at first. But then you are forced to come up with answers instantly.

“I think there is an extremely close connection between sports and the arts. Most involved with either are not going to play in the NHL or at Carnegie Hall, but if you’re lucky and take away anything from that experience, it is that ability to deal with things when they don’t go right and figure out strategies to do better. That’s a pretty good learning experience for anybody for the rest of their lives.”

It would seem that everything — from hockey to politics to writing — came easy to Dryden. Many still have this image of a seemingly laconic Dryden leaning on his goalie stick while perusing action on the other end of the ice and then springing back into action with cat-like reflexes in shutting down the opposition in front of his net.

He attributes that to being focused. “You can also hide a lot under a mask,” quips the Cornell grad. “Being a goalie is the one position when you’re both in the middle of the action and you’re also separate from it. It was the perfect position for me to play.

“People were probably wondering why someone who was a goalie was going to law school and then going on to write, and what possible connection there is. It’s actually a pretty close connection. It’s all focus, listening and observing and trying to make sense of something. That’s really no different than what you’re doing in politics, either,” adds Dryden, a Liberal member of Parliament from 2004 to 2011 and a cabinet minister from 2004 to 2006.

Hockey still plays an integral role in his life. His 2017 book, Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey, is a jarring look at the consequences of head injuries.

Despite having served as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1997 and 2004, Dryden concedes his heart still bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge.

“I’ll watch game highlights and check the standings every couple of weeks. But I still feel close to the team. That was a real time for all of us. And only with the passage of time do you dare to realize how good we were — which is something you don’t think about when you’re playing.”

Those glory days are fondly remembered by beleaguered Canadiens fans who have gone 25 years without a Stanley Cup parade.

“All those historic advantages — getting the best Canadian players in a smaller league — we had back then are gone,” notes Dryden. “We have to find a way of winning without those advantages.”

Clearly, a seemingly insurmountable struggle these days.




Ken Dryden is guest speaker for the 38th annual Allegra gala cocktail and concert event, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at McGill University’s Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke St. W. For tickets: 514-935-3933 or allegrachambermusic.com.



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