Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Game by Ken Dryden

Why I Read It: Got the bug for a good hockey book, and this one came highly recommended.

Summary: Ken Dryden walks us through the last days of his NHL career, with an amazing perspective on the game, its players and the way they've both changed through time.

My Thoughts: Having grown up in the hockey boom in the northeastern United States, when Bobby Orr was king, I've always loved the sport. I played on the street, I played in rinks, I played right up into high school before an odd, ancient injury pulled me from competing with the pack out on the ice. My dad never played, but instead coached, on a very high level, with the 1980 junior Olympians.

I grew up in the Boston area, so hockey life was Bruins life. The Canadiens were the enemy, the Yankees to our Red Sox. I might not have ready this book twenty years ago. But now I'm older, wiser. I have perspective. I only hope someday to have the amazing breadth of perspective that Dryden does.

Dryden shared the same youth I did. A ball, some sticks, a bunch of kids and a net, and it didn't matter where we were, a hockey game could break out at any moment. We even brought our Italian exchange students into the mix one summer. We had to. They were here, and we had to play hockey. We couldn't just stop for three weeks because they were here. When we went to Siracusa, we played soccer, because they had to.

It was all-consuming, for him and me. But he had the skill to go to the top. His teams, with him in net, won six Stanley Cups in eight years, a remarkable achievement. They were the Yankees of the '50s, the Celtics of the '60s. After that, he burned out on the sport, packed it in and walked away. Next came time for reflection, and reflect he did. In this book - touted as the best sports book ever written solely by an athlete - he speaks openly and freely about fame, about fans and about owners. He shoots straight on how he believes yesterday's superstar athletes would fare today, and on how the Canadiens "got up" for games against the Bruins. A good opponent made the game worth playing. This fact, for me, was a wonderful revelation. Sports talk radio hosts in Boston love to downplay rivalries, saying that teams like the Canadiens don't care about the Bruins when they are at the top, that they see them as just another team on the schedule. Dryden says otherwise.

In the end, it's "the game" - not hockey, but whatever sport one ties himself or herself to for life - that is the subject of the book. It's the whole lifestyle that comes with it, the locker room, the personalities, the travel, the ups and downs. For Dryden, the sport was hockey. The game was much more.

In this edition, the 20th anniversary, he adds another chapter on life after hockey, with a fantastic review of where hockey has gone globally since he stepped off the ice. His perspective, as stated, is grand, the text magnificently written. Having lived with hockey my whole life, I've watched it change, but never really stopped to truly look at how. It has blended through time, one phase melding into the next, but it is certainly not the same game I started with four decades ago.

I went looking for a great hockey book, and I found it.

(Extra note - there is a quick, really-not-noteworthy mention of my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, in the book. He mentions it in relation to landing at Logan Airport in Boston. It has no bearing on the story in any way, but it was certainly a strange moment reading the book and seeing the name of the town in lights in this way!)

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