Dryden revisits 1972 in new book
by Lucas Aykroyd|28 SEP 2022
Hall of Fame netminder Ken Dryden, who backstopped Canada to victory in Game Eight of the 1972 Summit Series against the USSR, has written a new book about that series.
photo: HHOF Images
It’s a curious paradox.

In terms of writing books, goalie Ken Dryden ranks as the foremost chronicler of the 1972 Summit Series out of all the players who competed in the seminal eight-game clash between Canada and the Soviet Union.

However, for this five-time Vezina Trophy winner and six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens, the series was far from his finest personal performance, despite Canada’s victory. At age 25, the future Hockey Hall of Famer registered a 4.75 GAA and 83.8 save percentage in four games. Dryden trailed both the USSR’s Vladislav Tretiak (3.87 GAA and 88.4 save percentage in eight games) and Canadian teammate Tony Esposito (3.33 GAA and 88.2 save percentage in four games).

So as the hockey world marks the 50th anniversary of the Summit Series this month, Dryden’s latest book -- The Series: What I Remember, What It Felt Like, What It Feels Like Now (23 August, McLelland & Stewart) – reveals just how much of an impact it left on his consciousness. He wouldn’t have put together the beautifully photo-illustrated, 192-page volume otherwise.

The Toronto resident is 75 now, and it’s certainly not the first time he’s revisited the Summit Series. Both as a literary work and as a meditation on the Series, the late-1970’s NHL, Canadian history, and life itself, 1983’s The Game still stands alone as his masterpiece. Dryden’s 1989 book Home Game: Hockey and Life in Canada also features memories from both Canadian and Russian veterans of ‘72.

Compared to Dryden’s 1973 book Face-Off at the Summit, a day-by-day, diary-style dive into the series co-written with Sports Illustrated’s Mark Mulvoy, The Series doesn’t probe as deeply. In some ways, it offers a primer for fans whose hockey memories begin closer to the start of the new millennium.

The Series neatly illuminates the roots of the Canada-Russia rivalry, tracing it from the 1954 Soviet triumph at the IIHF World Championship in Stockholm to their pseudo-amateur dominance of the 1960’s to the way ‘72 not only redeemed Canada’s national pride but also advanced the state of hockey with the Soviet emphasis on skills, puck possession, and off-ice conditioning.

Yet the book’s core philosophy comes through in this passage: “Memory is odd. We have so many recollections inside us. How do we understand them? How do they all fit together? What is the story? The real story?”
It’s not so much about Dryden clinically reevaluating what happened from the 7-3 Soviet upset in Game One at the Montreal Forum to Paul Henderson’s last-minute series winner in Game Eight at the Luzhniki Sports Palace in Moscow. It is truly about how it made him feel.

His recollection of waking up in Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel on the day before Game Two captures the utterly different feeling of sports culture prior to today’s obsessive 24-hour cycle of news and instant analysis: “In Toronto in 1972, there were no Sunday newspapers. There were no all-sports radio or TV stations. In the room, there was no radio.”

The minutiae of in-game action may have blurred 50 years later, but vivid details are everywhere in this book. They range from a reproduced invitation letter to play for Team Canada from NHLPA director Alan Eagleson (whose energy and initiative in 1972 is highlighted but whose later disgrace goes unmentioned) to memories of eating tough steaks and drinking Danish-produced Jolly Cola in the Russian capital. The book makes it clear how quirky things often linger in your head after you’ve participated in or covered a major international event, making it a quite different experience than what the TV viewers back home go through.

One interesting difference between The Series and The Game is how the former stops short of drawing the dramatic conclusions about a Soviet-driven evolution of hockey that the latter did.

The Game spotlights events in 1979,  including when the Soviets defeated the NHL All-Stars handily in the three-game Challenge Cup at Madison Square Garden. And it was published in 1983, when all six members of the IIHF World Championship all-star team were Russian, including Tretiak, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. In this era, it looked like the USSR might be gaining the upper hand over Canada.

In The Game, Dryden contends that at the Challenge Cup, “the Soviets fundamentally changed their approach to the game...they understand finally that hockey is not a possession game, nor can it ever be.” He later adds: “The Soviets have found the answer to our game and taken it apart. We are left with only wishful thinking. We must go back and find another way.”

In hindsight, the reality is that as the years went by, Canada learned more from the Russians than vice versa, and that hockey has transformed into more of a possession game than ever before.

With all that said, The Series is a marvelous tribute to one of the greatest sports events of the 20th century and – to many historians and fans alike – the most important non-IIHF hockey series ever played. Like Dryden himself in that 6-5 Game Eight finale in Moscow, the book comes out a winner.