drawing dave dryden

I wrote in my book about drawing Dave Dryden. This would have been 1977 or so, still WHA days for the Oilers, and I would have been 10 or 11. I loved drawing goalies, those fat brown pads and that waffly blocker in particular. I failed to do justice to his famous Oilers’ mask, it’s true, but Dryden was good enough not to mention that. My grandparents lived in Edmonton, where my grandfather was a judge, so I sent the drawing to him. I don’t know if I knew that he’d pass it on to Dryden himself, who then mailed it back to me, along with a kind letter and a team photo. Could be that that was my plan from the start. Or possibly I was surprised and, while pleased for the recognition and the autographs, puzzled at the same time: my grandfather didn’t want my drawing for his own collection?

dave dryden, 1941—2022

Bro Show: Dave Dryden, right, congratulates younger brother Ken at the Montreal Forum on the night of April 5, 1973, the first time in NHL history that two brothers tended goal against each other. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

Very sorry to be seeing the news that Dave Dryden died this past Tuesday at the age of 81. He was a goaltender, because that’s what the boys in that family did: his younger brother, of course, Hall-of-Famer Ken, followed him into puckstopping. Born in Hamilton in 1941, Dave played 205 games in the NHL, working the nets in his time for the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, Buffalo Sabres, and Edmonton Oilers. He played 260 WHA games, too, starting with the Chicago Cougars before joining the Oilers; in 1979, he won both the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s top goaltender and the Gordie How Trophy as league MVP.

“I don’t know where we went wrong,” Murray Dryden wrote, wryly, in a 1972 account of his hockey-playing sons, Playing The Shots At Both Ends. “The two boys both graduated from university, but they ended up as goaltenders.”

Murray himself never played hockey, though he could boast some NHL pedigree (and did) insofar as he counted former Leafs Syl Apps and Andy Blair as well as New York Rangers’ ironman Murray Murdoch as cousins.

The family moved from Hamilton to Islington, a suburb of Toronto, in 1949. It was there that young Dave found his future, his father recalled:

One Saturday morning, when he was ten years old, we went to a lumber yard and bought some two-by-fours. Then we got some chicken wire at a hardware store and brought it home, and made a hockey net. It was the first and last thing I ever constructed in my life. The total cost was $6.60.

We set it up in the driveway in front of the garage door and the boys peppered a tennis ball at it for hours on end. And from that moment there didn’t seem much doubt that Dave was going to play hockey and he was going to be a goaltender.

When the two Drydens famously skated out on Forum ice in Montreal on March 20, 1971, it was the first time in NHL history that brothers had faced one another as goaltenders. Ken’s Canadiens prevailed that night over Dave’s Sabres by a score of 5-2.

When the two met again at the Forum the following season, the Canadiens fired 54 shots at the Buffalo net on their way to a 9-3 win. Writing in the Montreal Star, Red Fisher nominated Dave Dryden as “a candidate for the first Purple Heart of the 1971-72 season. Never has one man stopped so much for a team which deserved less. Dryden, who shook hands at game’s end with his only friend in the rink — his brother, Ken — was brilliant on many, many occasions.”

All told, the brothers met eight times in the NHL, with Ken’s Canadiens prevailing on five occasions. Dave’s only win came in December 10, 1972, when the Sabres beat Montreal 4-2 at the Forum. Two other games ended in ties.

The photograph here dates to another brotherly meeting, this one on April 4, 1973, as the Sabres opened their first-round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs against Canadiens at the Forum. Montreal won that one by a score of 2-1, with Ken taking honours as the game’s first star, Dave as the second. The brothers faced off again the following night, with Montreal winning that one 7-3. That was all the goaltending Dave Dryden did that year, with Roger Crozier taking over the Buffalo net as Montreal went on to take the series in six games.

Future Sealed: A young Dave Dryden guards the net his dad Murray built for the princely sum of $6. 60.

 

 

 

the world is bigger than all those stories said

Sorry to be seeing news of the death of the poet Richard Sanger, on September 12 at the age of 59. Condolences to his family, friends, and readers. He was the author of several acclaimed collections, including Calling Home (2002) and Dark Woods (2018), as well as plays and essays. In a tribute published this week, Biblioasis reports that he completed his final collection of poems, Way To Go, just this month.

In 2020, Véhicule published a chapbook of his, Fathers At Hockey. Featured among the 19 poems included there were “First Ice,” “Misconduct,” “Leaf Talk,” and “Holy Mackinaw,” as well as the lines, above, of “Last Game.”  

tommy woodcock, 1933—2022

Sorry to see news of the death earlier this week of Tommy Woodcock, the first trainer the St. Louis Blues ever had, and a veteran of the dressing rooms of the Hartford Whalers and San Jose Sharks. He was 89.

In Providence, Rhode Island, Woodcock grew up as the son of the manager of the local Arena, and he got his first job there in the 1940s when, as a 12-year-old, he served as (in his words) “a squeegee boy, helping brush the excess water off the rink after it had been flooded.” On his skates, he played centre and right wing, and scored some goals in the 1950s on New England senior amateur ice and, briefly, in the Eastern Hockey League.

As the story goes, Buddy LeRoux, trainer of Boston’s Celtics and Red Sox, was the one to suggest he take up as a trainer. Woodcock started out tending college teams at Brown, in Providence, and worked with the AHL Providence Reds, as well as with local baseball and football teams before GM Lynn Patrick hired him in 1967 to be the trainer for the expansion St. Louis Blues. With the Reds, he was a protégé of trainer George Army, a local legend who maintained that he’d learned to stitch hockey wounds by slicing up oranges and then sewing them back together.

Woodcock was 34 when he started in St. Louis. For 16 years he tended the Blues, who vied their way (in vain) during that tenure through three Stanley Cup Finals. The times, they were simpler, back then, as Woodcock recalled for NHL.com in 2008: “The players did a lot. They carried their own bags. We never washed the underwear, we just hung it up to dry.”

Woodcock’s other duties, in his day, ran the regular gamut. He sharpened skates, maintained and modified equipment, stitched wounds, ministered to aches, pains, scuffs, concussings. He wielded tape — a lot of tape. For a cheerful newspaper profile in 1970, Woodcock estimated that the Blues’ annual roll-out of tape was some 212,000 yards for socks-securing and another 3,300 yards for sticks.

In 1973, Woodcock organized his expertise into a book.

In 1979, around the occasion of his 1,000th NHL game, Woodcock testified that Bernie Federko was the most talented player he’d had under his care, while original Blues’ captain Al Arbour rated the highest pain tolerance of any of his charges. Garry Unger, meanwhile, had “the best set of muscle structure” in Blues’ history. “That’s why,” Woodcock said, “he never has any pulled or strained muscles.”

“Arbour was typical of some of the old-timers,” Woodcock waxed in ’79, “he was totally dedicated to the game.” The biggest change he’d seen in his time in big-league hockey? “The young guys coming into the league now aren’t dedicated. They aren’t willing to work to improve themselves. If they’re not doing well, they’ll blame their stick or a part of their equipment — but never blame themselves or try to work harder.”

One then-current Blue was excused from this indictment: Brian Sutter. “He’s the last of the real dedicated hockey players,” Woodcock said.

In 1983, Woodcock followed former Blues’ GM Emile Francis to the Hartford Whalers. In 1991, GM Jack Ferreira hired him to be the first trainer for the expansion San Jose Sharks. He would continue to work as a consultant with the Sharks well into his 70s and in so doing, in 2008 attended his 40th NHL training camp. All told, he presided over more than 3,000 NHL games, regular-season and playoff.

In 1973, Woodcock became the first NHL trainer to organize his experience and expertise into a book when he published Hockey From The Ice Up, a helpful how-to aimed at aspiring young players, their parents, and coaches. It counselled on equipment and pregame meals, ran down conditioning best practices, delineated hockey injuries (from butterflies to tongue-swallowing), and identified some key dos and don’ts for those hoping to succeed in hockey (stay away from alcohol and solvent-sniffing).

In 2003, Woodcock was inducted into the Hall of Fame that the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society curates under the auspices of the Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Lefty Wilson, Skip Thayer, and Eddy Palchak in the pantheon.

 

jean-guy gendron, 1934—2022

Hats Off: A 25-year-old Jean-Guy Gendron shows a smile after scoring his first NHL hattrick on February 1, 1959, at the Boston Garden as his Bruins dismissed the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 6-4. “First time this year anyone take my picture,” he said afterwards, wearing his hat and showing off the puck with which he scored his third goal. That one went into an empty net; the first two he put past Johnny Bower.

Sorry to be hearing of the death last week, on June 30, of Jean-Guy Gendron at the age of 87. Born in Montreal, he made his NHL debut as a left winger for the New York Rangers in 1955. He subsequently played for the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens (just a single game), and Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he posted his best numbers, in 1968-69, when he scored 20 goals and 65 points. Gendron played a couple of seasons, too, in the WHA for the Quebec Nordiques. He coached the Nords, too, in the mid-1970s, steering them to the Avco Cup finals in his first year, 1974-75, where they lost to the Houston Aeros.

 

 

jim pappin, 1939—2022

From the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hard news today that Jim Pappin has died at the age of 82: condolences from here to his family and friends. Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on Sunday, September 10, 1939, Pappin made his debut as an NHL right winger in 1963 when he joined Punch Imlach’s Leaf roster in the wake of their second successive Stanley Cup championship. He won his first championship with the leafs in 1964. In 1967, Pappin not only scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal in Game Six of the Finals, he led the league in playoff scoring. After five Leaf seasons, he went to Chicago in the trade that brought Pierre Pilote to Toronto. Pappin played in seven seasons for the Black Hawks, with whom he had his best scoring season, in 1972-73, when he notched 41 goals and 92 points. He saw action, too, with California’s Seals and the Barons of Cleveland.

eric nesterenko, 1933—2022

Eric Nesterenko has died at the age of 88, the Chicago Black Hawks are noting today. Born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, he made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1952 as an 18-year-old. After playing parts of five seasons in Toronto, the Leafs sold his and Harry Lumley’s contracts contract to Chicago for $40,000. Sixteen seasons he skated with the Black Hawks before retiring from the NHL in 1972. He subsequently joined the Chicago Cougars during the WHA’s 1973-74 season, taking a last pro turn at 40. In later years he worked as a ski patroller and instructor and taught some university as a guest lecturer. He played Rob Lowe’s father in the 1986 movie Youngblood and, apparently, passed several summers in the northern Alaska volunteering as air-defence spotter in case any Russian aircraft should stray into view.

In Bill Gaston’s wonderful novel The Good Body (2000), his protagonist, Bonaduce, marvels at Nesterenko, who in 1968 (he asserts) “scored 32 goals for Chicago and published his first book of poems.” I looked for that book, and when I failed to find it, I asked Gaston, was it true? He couldn’t remember whether or just should be. I found an address in Vail, Colorado, and wrote to Nesterenko for the final word, but my letter came back unopened, RETURN TO SENDER, the envelope demanded, while confiding also ATTEMPTED and NOT KNOWN, and finally (protesting way too much) UNABLE TO FORWARD.

It’s worth, on this day, revisiting the interview Studs Terkel did with Nesterenko for his 1974 book Working.

“It’s been a good life,” the hockey player said there. “Maybe I could have done better, have better record or something like that. But I’ve really had very few regrets over the past 20 years. I can enjoy some of the arts that I had shut myself off from as a kid. Perhaps that is my only regret. The passion for the game was so all-consuming when I was a kid that I blocked myself from music. I cut myself off from a certain broadness of experience. Maybe one has to do that to fully explore what they want to do the most passionately.

I know a lot of pro athletes who have a capacity for a wider experience. But they wanted to become champions. They had to focus themselves on their one thing completely. His primary force when he becomes champion is his ego trip, his desire to excel, to be somebody special. To some degree, he must dehumanize himself. I look forward to a lower key way of living. But it must be physical. I’m sure I would die without it, become a drunk or something.

I still like to skate. One day last year on a cold, clear, crisp afternoon, I saw this huge sheet of ice in the street. Goddamn if I didn’t drive out there and put on my skates. And I flew. Nobody was there. I was free as a bird. I was really happy. That goes back to when I was a kid. I’ll do that until I die, I hope. Oh, I was free!

The wind was blowing from the north. With the wind behind you, you’re in motion, you can wheel and dive and turn, you can lay yourself into impossible angles that you never could walking or running. You lay yourself at a 45-degree angle, your elbow virtually touching the ice as you’re in a turn. Incredible It’s beautiful! You’re breaking the bounds of gravity. I have a feeling this is the innate desire of man.

I haven’t kept many photographs of myself, but I found one where I’m in full flight. I’m leaning into a turn. You pick up the centrifugal forces and you lay in it. For a few seconds, like a gyroscope, they support you. I’m in full flight and my head is turned. I’m concentrating on something and I’m grinning. That’s the way I like to picture myself. I’m something else there. I’m on another level of existence, just being in pure motion. Going wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go. That’s nice, you know.”

10

Fin: Guy Lafleur (on the right) on the ice at the Montreal Forum in the late 1970s alongside his long-time left winger, Steve Shutt. Quebec is honouring Lafleur with a national funeral this morning at Montreal’s downtown Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral. (Image: Antoine Desilets, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

guy lafleur, 1951—2022

Minus Ten: Montreal’s Gazette is reporting this morning that Guy Lafleur has died at the age of 70. A colossus of the Canadiens cosmos, he played 14 seasons for Montreal before he retired in 1985. He made a return with the New York Rangers, with whom he skated for another season, and played a further two for the Quebec Nordiques. He won five Stanley Cup championships with Montreal, along with a cluster of individual awards: three Art Ross trophies, 2 Harts, a Conn Smythe.

 

skate away

Shocked by the news, shook with a sorrow that goes beyond saying to learn that Steve Heighton has died. What a writer. What a lovely man, kind and funny. When I was a student at Queen’s, long ago, writing studenty sentences, he was already a sparking star in Kingston’s firmament, in the thick of literary doing, rising fast, a poet in the flesh and spirit, on the page, on the fly, cool as they come, and just as friendly. Later I was writing about a novel of his, a very good and beautiful one, and assigned to profile him for a magazine, I contrived to spend a good part of a month in that collaboration, tracking him to Kingston, talking, talking, words and craft and books and everything else, drinking hellfire grappa together, nearly (almost) going out and getting myself a thrumming Selectric typewriter because that’s what Steve worked on, a one-fingered (like me) typist. I shadowed him one day as he did publicity rounds in Toronto, ending up in a vast Chapters where he sat surrounded by the books his publisher was expecting him to be autographing, and he got down dutifully to that, right after he’d schooled my forger’s pen in how to simulate his signature, to speed the work so we could get to the bar. Then when I wrote a book there was no more attentive or generous reader than Stavros, as he would sometimes sign the notes he wrote, often they’d come through after midnight, such was the urgency of celebrating the pith and pleasure of a single phrase or just a word, or maybe he had a thoughtful question, or was sending a story of his. Mine was a hockey book, and Steve loved to skate, and played the game with a serious (and self-deprecating) passion, and then for a long time we were talking hockey back and forth, about how to hook-check (“It might work really well in pick-up”), or he was reporting what happened when he suited up on Kingston beer-league ice to try his hand and reflexes as a goaltender: “Once I flopped,” he submitted, “I couldn’t get up — I lay there thrashing, grabbing at the posts — like a cockroach fallen on its back.” He invited me to join a team of his, the Journeymen, a troupe of writers who laced on skates, took up sticks for a weekend tournament that was the best mid-winter fun I’ve ever had, out in the wind and the snow on Wolfe Island, because of Steve. I was in it because of him, and he was all in, on the ice, and everywhere. What a man.

Wolfe Island Debrief: Steve Heighton, on the right, at the Lake Ontario Cup, February 7, 2015.

 

“Wheat Town Beer-Leaguer, Good Snapshot, No Backhand” is in Steve’s 2016 collection The Waking Comes Late (Anansi)

 

mike bossy, 1957—2022

So sorry to see news this morning of Mike Bossy’s death at the age of 65 of lung cancer. What a superlative — and stylish — goalscorer he was in the ten seasons he played the right wing for the New York Islanders. He was instrumental in the team’s run of four Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s, of course, and a pure pleasure to watch, even if you happened to favour the Montreal Canadiens over those upstart Islanders. Bossy won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1978 and added a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1982. Three times he won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. 22 was his number; the Islanders retired it in his honour in 1992.

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