The Game

By Ken Dryden


"The trouble with people like us who start so that we soon have no place left to go."

—Pomeroy in Joseph Heller's Good as Gold

"I leave before being left. I decide."

—Brigitte Bardot

I hear something and stir, then squint open my eyes. The room is filled with the morning sun. Sarah, aged four, appears and quickly disappears, shuffling noisily from room to room in her snowsuit, looking for something, apparently with no success. Downstairs, in a whispered shout, my wife Lynda tells her to hurry up. I look at the clock in the alcove beside me. It is 8:51. I start to get up, then I hear Sarah going down the stairs. I yell goodbye to her, and she yells a reply. I lie back, close my eyes, but I don't sleep.

It has been a short, restless night, yet I feel wonderfully refreshed. The sun, the crisp white sheets, a quilt pulled up to my nose—I'm filled with an enormous sense of well-being and for several moments I don't know why. Then I remember. The game, last night's game in Buffalo. I must be tired—it's less than four hours since I went to bed—but that can wait. I want to be awake, I want to lie in my bed and feel the feeling I earned last night, to wrap my covers around it, to gather it up and hold it, to feel all of it completely. It is the morning after a special night, and everything out of reach, out of mind, a few hours ago now seems possible again.

An hour later, my ski jacket undone, I bound down the front steps two at a time as the mailman comes down the driveway. I smile at him, he hands me the mail, and smiles—he knows. I back the car onto the street. Across the road, a neighbor carries in her garbage pails. I wave. She waves back and smiles—she knows. I drive along Highway 40 to the city, passing the few cars in sight, the weather cold and blustery, my window down, my elbow out, rock music screaming from my radio.

The car turns off at Atwater and cuts through the late morning traffic. Stoplights blink amber, then red; the car stops. My head bobs from side to side at unseen passersby, my fingers drum out rhythms from the radio. The light changes and the car starts up. Past St. Catherine Street, past de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke, moving as if by some mechanical memory of its own to the same street, the same parking spot, as every other day. I get out and walk, faster and faster, the air so crisp and cold it burns my lungs. I go to the bank. A teller turns and smiles—she knows. I go to a coffee shop, to a bookstore, to a newsstand, they all smile—they all know. I'm as good as my last game and no one can forget it.

Last night was the sixty-second game of my eighth season with the Montreal Canadiens. It was perhaps our best game in what, for us, has not been a good year. After a tie in Chicago and a Saturday loss at home to Minnesota, we continued the frustrating pattern of good and bad play that has characterized our season by coming up with a vintage Canadiens performance—explosive, unyielding, immensely varied—and in doing so, reminded ourselves excitedly that what we've been searching for during most of the year is still there. For me, it was a personal triumph of sorts. I played well in Buffalo where too often I haven't played well (until recently, where I haven't played at all). Replacing Michel "Bunny" Larocque, our team's other goalie, who is injured, I finally put aside the season-long doubts and thoughts of the future that have preoccupied me, and just played. Later, when I arrived home from Buffalo at 1:30 a.m., the house dark and quiet, I went to my office, turned on a light, and sat—excited, alert, unable to sleep, unwilling to sleep, wanting to feel then what I feel now. It is a rare feeling when expectations and hopes, when a team, a game, and I, come together. And now after eight years and nearly five hundred games, after those hopes and expectations have been battered and mocked, it is rarer still. So each time it happens, each time I get the feeling, I guard it and nourish it, feeling it for as long as I can.

I thought only good thoughts as I sat there: about a team, the best of its time; about Scotty Bowman and Claude Ruel; about Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Doug Risebrough, Rick Chartraw, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur; about Mario Tremblay, Yvan Cournoyer, Larocque, Pierre Larouche, Pierre Mondou; Jacques Lemaire, Yvon Lambert, Gilles Lupien, Pat Hughes. Flipping through images, hearing their voices, sometimes laughing out loud, feeling things I would never say, knowing that only good people can play the way they play. Bob Gainey, Réjean Houle, Steve Shutt, Guy Lapointe; Brian Engblom, Mark Napier, Rod Langway, Cam Connor; it has been the rare chance to play with the best to be the best; five Stanley Cups in seven years, three Stanley Cups in the last three years, a desperate fourth just three months away.

I also thought about me: a little wearied, a little worn, tormented by doubts and feelings and lifelong illusions I can no longer reconcile, yet still able to find joy in the game. It is a different game from the one I played on a driveway twenty-five years ago, grown cluttered and complicated by the life around it, but guileless at its core and still recoverable from time to time. I felt good about that as I did about a lot of things, and as the night went on, I leaned back further and further in my chair and closed my eyes, deeply content. About 5:30 a.m., as the outside turned from black to gray, the feeling got tired, and I knew it was time to go to bed.

*Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., from THE GAME by Ken Dryden. Copyright © 2005 by Ken Dryden.

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