I don't remember a lot about my young childhood (under 8 years old) but I do vividly remember the exact day I fell into a lifelong love for the Montreal Canadiens - April 8th, 1971. That was the day they came back from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Boston Bruins 7-5.
I remember being in the living room of our house in St. Rose and being so upset when they fell behind 5-1. So upset in fact, that I almost turned the game off. I remember my father telling me something along the lines of "that new goalie they got isn't looking too good". I didn't know what to think but I also remember my mom saying - "don't cry now, there's still a period left to play - anything could happen". And so I continued to watch...
When John Ferguson tied the game at 5 I was over the moon. I jumped up and down and shouted so loud that my mother had to scold me. "But it's tied. They tied it up. The score's 5-5" She couldn't believe it, having long ago decided that there were more important things to do around the house. Even though Dryden had let in some iffy goals, he had made some great saves to keep the Boston scoreline at 5. And he made a few more before the end of the game too!. When The Big M put the game out of reach I screamed again and laughed for what seemed like an hour (probably only until the end of the game).
Then my attention turned to the look on the face of Ken Dryden. His skeleton-like mask scare me a bit but I looked beyond that and saw the hair, the eyes and the mouth through what looked like bandaged wire. That was what a real goalie looked like! When he lent on his goal stick and fixed his stare down the ice I knew this was the beginning of something. I knew that the Canadiens would beat the Bruins and I somewhere in my head it just clicked...the Canadiens were going to win the Cup (I as 7 years old so it was easy). "My Team" was going to win the Stanley Cup!
From that day forward, my doodling in school consisted of me trying to draw pictures of Ken Dryden in his famous leaning pose. I would practice drawing the Habs Logo on all my school books. When we played street hockey I either wore number 29 or number 4 in most of my school and community hockey teams (and basketball and baseball for that matter) and I idolized Ken Dryden from that day forward. When I played hockey myself I sometimes played in goal and when I did, I was Ken Dryden. "What would Dryden do?" I would ask myself. (Fortunately for the Habs, he was far, far better a goalie than I). When he retired I remember being very sad. He was the best there ever was. I thought that now and I think that to this very day.
They say that you should never meet your heros - not sure who "they" is but I think they is right - One day, many many years later I was walking along the boardwalk in the Beaches in Toronto when I saw a very familiar face approaching. "Oh my God", I whispered to my wife, "see that man, that's Ken Dryden!" He was walking with his wife Linda, deep in conversation. As he approached a million thoughts rushed into my head. What do I say? Do I ask for an autograph? Should I get a picture? Oh My God, what will I say? And I kept thinking about what to say as I walked up to him smiled (we made eye contact!) and kept going past him. I was frozen. He looked different than I imagined but at the same time he looked the same. My wife, who was from the UK and not a hockey fan, asked me "why didn't you say anything? I looked at her and said simply - "That was Ken Dryden - he played goalie for the Montreal Canadiens - My team! - The greatest team in the world"