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The Dryden Brothers

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Great article with a bit of Habs and NHL history from the Hamilton Spectator's Steve Buist.

April 09, 2009

BY STEVE BUIST

THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR

Thirty-eight years. Can it really be that long ago?

Has it really been 38 years since the Hamilton-born Dryden brothers made NHL history?

“It seems like it was another life,” Ken Dryden said, a touch wistfully, from his office on Parliament Hill.

Ken is now a Liberal MP while Dave, who lives in Oakville, is president and chairman of Sleeping Children Around the World, a charity started by their father, Murray Dryden.

“You feel almost as much a spectator to that as other people were a spectator to it,” Ken said.

It was March 20, 1971, a Saturday night at the Montreal Forum, when Ken and his older brother Dave became the first brothers to ever play goal against each other in an NHL game.

It was a historic occasion that very nearly didn’t come to pass.

Six nights earlier, Ken had just played his first NHL game ever. He had been called up from the Montreal Canadiens’ farm team and backstopped the Habs to a 5-1 win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

That same night in Minnesota, Dave went one better, kicking aside 48 shots and picking up a shutout as the Buffalo Sabres blasted the North Stars 5-0.

The Sabres were coached at the time by Punch Imlach, a man who enjoyed grand gestures.

Imlach was determined to see the two brothers square off in Montreal that Saturday night.

“Punch was the kind of guy who always wanted to make history,” said Dave. “I remember him telling me, ‘Dave, you’re starting tomorrow and I’m going to challenge them to see who they’re going to start.’ ”

But Montreal coach Al MacNeil had already decided that Rogie Vachon would start against Buffalo, with Ken on the bench.

“I remember getting a call from our dad on the Thursday and Dad saying ‘I think I’m going to come down for the game,’ ” Ken said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s fine but you might be disappointed because I’ve been told I’m not playing.’ But he still decided he was going to come.

“I was still just trying to fit in with the team,” he added. “Your focus is just on surviving.”

As coach of the visiting team, Imlach was required to submit his starting lineup first, and he marked Dave down as his goaltender.

But MacNeil stuck with his plan and put Vachon in net.

“Punch then comes to me and says ‘Dave, you’re out there to start but I’m going to replace you right off the bat because Ken’s not playing,’ ” Dave recalled.

“I’m sure I wasn’t there for much more than the national anthem,” Dave added. “I kidded him later and said ‘Punch, what was the problem? Wasn’t I standing straight enough?’ ”

The game started and, at the first whistle, Dave Dryden skated off the ice and he was replaced by Joe Daley in the Buffalo net. Now the two Dryden brothers were watching the game from opposite benches.

But, a couple of minutes into the second period, Vachon went down with an injury.

“Rogie’s a tough guy, he always bounces up, but he didn’t bounce up this time,” said Ken.

MacNeil had no choice but to put Ken into the game.

“As soon as Ken went in, Punch said ‘In you go, too,’ ” Dave said. “To him, the score would have meant nothing, it was just the fact that he had set out to have both of us play against each other.”

“There’s such an unreality to it,” Ken noted. “I don’t suspect Dave felt comfortable for the rest of the game. I know I didn’t.”

The final score was 5-2 for Montreal — not surprising, really, since the Canadiens were on their way to a Stanley Cup title while the Sabres were in their first year as an expansion franchise.

When the game ended, the two brothers skated to centre ice and shook hands, a ritual normally reserved for playoff games.

“We knew, I think, that no brothers had played against each other, but the crowd didn’t know at all,” said Dave.

“It’s interesting, we have a picture of Ken and I at the end of the game shaking hands and you can see the crowd in the background, and obviously the crowd wasn’t watching. There isn’t anyone’s face looking at us.”

“The best part was here was our Dad, who took a chance and came down, and he saw it,” added Ken.

The Drydens ended up playing against each other about four or five times over the course of their careers, and the standing agreement was they would always shake hands at centre ice after the game.

Dave always marvelled at his brother’s powers of concentration.

“One time, it was at the Forum, I remember skating out toward centre ice after the game and looking up to see Ken skating off the ice and me thinking ‘Hmm, that’s funny,’ ” said Dave. “I think it was Serge Savard giving Ken a whack on the pads and pointing out to centre ice and you could see Ken kind of going ‘Oh yeah, I forgot.’

“My reaction was ‘Holy frig, he’s got a powerful mind’ because I couldn’t block out the fact that it was Ken at the other end,” Dave said. “It wasn’t another goalie, it was my brother. It was always there.”

“It’s interesting that he said that because I thought it was the opposite,” responded Ken. “I could never forget he was down at the other end. I always felt ‘I cannot get into this game.’

“I was so distracted knowing he was at the other end,” Ken added. “I didn’t enjoy those games against Buffalo.”

For Ken, the rest of the 1970-71 season passed like a dream come true. He appeared in only six regular-season games for the Canadiens, won them all and allowed just nine goals.

With just six NHL games under his belt, he then started all 20 of Montreal’s playoff games, leading the Habs to the Stanley Cup championship.

Dryden was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, and he’d go on to win five more Stanley Cup titles.

“He was good,” brother Dave said simply. “I could watch a game analytically and it wasn’t that he was lucky.

“He’s worthy of all the accolades he gets.”

sbuist@thespec.com

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