The Current

'This, finally, was our opportunity': Ken Dryden explores 1972 Summit Series emotions in new book

Following the Soviet Union's ice hockey dominance in the 1950s and 1960s, former goaltender Ken Dryden said the 1972 Summit Series was an opportunity for Canadian NHL players to prove they were the best of the best.

Dryden started four games in the series, including series-deciding game eight

Ken Dryden, right, reminisces about the 1972 Summit Series in new book, The Series: What I Remember, What it Felt Like, What it Feels Like Now. (The Canadian Press)

Ken Dryden may have been on the ice to experience Paul Henderson's historic goal in game eight of the 1972 Summit Series, but he didn't have the best view of the moment.

"I could see everything, but being 180 feet away, I was sure of nothing that I was seeing," the goaltender told The Current's Matt Galloway. "All I could really make out was that there was a scramble in front of the net."

But when he realized Henderson had scored, he knew he had join in the celebration.

"I can … still hear the sound of my goalie skates — just clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp — going down the ice, and I can hear my own whoops in my ears," he said. "That's very vivid to me."

"Then it was sort of this Hollywood movie moment where you slap yourself in the face and say, 'Wait a minute, I gotta get a hold of myself. There are 34 seconds to go.'"

WATCH: Paul Henderson's series-winning goal in Canada's 6-5 win over the Soviet Union

The seconds after may have felt like hours for Dryden and his teammates, but Henderson's goal soon held up as the winner — both for the game (which ended 6-5 in Canada's favour) and the series. 

With the victory, Dryden's Team Canada had beaten the Soviet national team four games to three (with one draw in game three.)

Although 50 years have passed since the 1972 Summit Series, Dryden is still reminded of the series' reach, even in some of the most remote places in the world.

"I was in Kazakhstan about three or four years ago … and I was stunned to run into some people who vividly remember the series," he said. "It was one of the rare things that they felt connected to in the old Soviet Union."

Dryden's new book, The Series: What I Remember, What it Felt Like, What it Feels Like Now, explores Dryden's memories from the iconic series. It also features postcards, letters and other mementos from Canadian and Soviet fans that give the series a more personal look.

His book hit store shelves on Aug. 23.

Battle of the best

The Summit Series was not the first time Team Canada had participated in an international tournament, but it was the first time that Canada's team was made up of professional NHL players.

Prior to 1972, professional players were ineligible to play in the World Championships or the Olympics. As a result, Dryden says Canada was "represented by players who either never made it to the NHL, or after some years in the NHL were playing senior hockey back in their hometowns — and it was their hometown team that was representing Canada."

This wasn't an issue for a few decades; between the 1920s and 1950s, Canadian amateur teams won more World Championships and Olympic titles than any other nation.

But when the Soviet Union started its own national hockey league in 1946 and began supplying full-time, paid "amateur" players to the national team, Canada's hockey success dried up. The Soviets won 13 international hockey championships in the 1950s and 1960s, including eight-straight World Championships between 1963 and 1971.

Here [we were] at home, knowing we are the best in the world, and every year somebody else is called the world champions.-Ken Dryden, former goalie

Dryden said the Soviet's success — and the failure of Canada's amateur teams to match them — were on the players' minds going into the 1972 Summit Series.

"Here [we were] at home, knowing we are the best in the world, and every year somebody else is called the world champions," he said. "That was something that just completely was aggravating, annoying, disturbing for us — and this, finally, was our opportunity."

Heightened emotions

Team Canada's 1972 roster featured some of the most recognizable names in NHL history. including Dryden, the Esposito brothers, Bobby Clarke and Frank Mahovolich. Many of them had played for the league's best teams and won Stanley Cups.

But as game one drew closer, Dryden and his teammates realized this was going to be a series unlike anything they had experienced before.

"It began to feel different right at the end, and especially … the day of the game in Montreal, arriving to the arena and the sound of the crowd," he said.

Canada's Paul Henderson shoots against Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak during Game 2 of the Summit Series in 1972. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

One of the moments that best reflected these heightened emotions, according to Dryden, was the ceremonial faceoff. 

Normally, a ceremonial faceoff is a mundane thing. "The home team captain would just kind of gather the puck up and then pick it up and hand it to the honoured person," Dryden explained. 

But when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dropped the puck, Canada centre Phil Esposito, who was taking the faceoff, whipped the puck behind him as if he was taking a real faceoff.

"Afterwards, he was like … 'I had to win that draw,'" Dryden said. "That would never have happened to him before. He would have been part of lots of ceremonial faceoffs. But that's what it felt like."

WATCH: The ceremonial puck drop ahead of game one of the 1972 Summit Series

Hockey belongs to the people

Half a century after the Summit Series captivated Canada, hockey is again a main talking point in the country — but for the wrong reasons.

Hockey Canada, the country's governing ice hockey body, has faced intense public scrutiny since May over its handling of several sexual assault allegations.

The fall-out has led to the federal government freezing the organization's funding and major sponsors pausing their support of the body and some tournaments.

Dryden, pictured here, says the people responsible for the Hockey Canada scandal will soon understand that hockey 'belongs to those people who play it.' (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose father dropped the ceremonial puck in game one of the Summit Series, told reporters last week that Hockey Canada's leadership has lost the confidence of the federal government and Canadians.

"And the longer it takes for Hockey Canada to realize that, the more difficulties they're going to face," he said.

Dryden says Hockey Canada has misjudged the depth of feeling that Canadians have for hockey.

He added those responsible will soon understand that this game doesn't belong to them or any of the governing organizations like Hockey Canada or the NHL.

"It belongs to those people who play it — and it's men, it's women, it's kid, it's older people," he said.


Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mouhamad Rachini is a Canadian-Lebanese writer and producer for CBC Radio's digital team. He's worked for several CBC Radio shows including The Current, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He's particularly passionate about stories from Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. He also writes about soccer on his website Between the Sticks. You can reach him at mouhamad.rachini@cbc.ca.

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