Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 14, 1971: Ken Dryden debuts with the Montreal Canadiens

To most fans across the NHL, it was a plain and simple statement issued, and in some cases buried in a corner of their local papers, by the Associated Press:

Call_upFans of the Montreal Canadiens knew well of Ken Dryden, who had been an All-American goalie with Cornell University and played on Canada’s national team. The 23-year old was quickly becoming established in Montreal in his first pro season with AHL Voyageurs.

Dryden was impressive in the Canadiens training camp in September, playing in two pre-season games against Chicago and Boston.

He would begin the 1970-71 season studying law, in his second year at McGill University, while at the same time posting a 16-7-8 record, with a 2.68 GAA and 3 shutouts with the Canadiens farm club.

After signing a new contract with Montreal in January of 1971, Dryden began focusing more on hockey, referring to his law studies as a “hobby”.

Dryden was officially called up by the Canadiens on March 7, when the team decided to carry three goalies (Dryden, Phil Myre and Rogie Vachon) through the remainder of the season.

Coach Al McNeil gave the rookie his first start on March 14, against the fifth-place Pittsbugh Penguins, after Vachon had played 15 straight games for Montreal. McNeil said the veteran goalie “deserved a break.”

“Our club was getting a little dull the last three games,” McNeil said as the Canadiens had just a tie to go with two straight losses. “We didn’t have too much life.”

With the team playing at home against Chicago the night before, the timing for Dryden’s debut in Pittsburgh was just right.

Dryden admitted being nervous filling the shoes of the popular Canadiens netminder. “Sometimes you feel it in your stomach, and other times in your legs,” he said. “This time it was in my legs.”

The Penguins managed to get 36 shots on Dryden, beating him just once on a deflection by Penguins rookie John Stewart at 18:01 of the second period.It was Stewart’s first NHL goal.

“I was following the shot from the from the point, and it deflected right into Stewart’s stick,” Dryden said.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Canadiens had already scored three goals on route to a 5-1 win.

First_Game Bryan Hextall (note the name typo on the jersey) looks on as Ken Dryden makes one of his 35 saves in his NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins – 03/14/1971 – Pittsburgh Press photo

The young netminder even admitted thinking he might get a shutout.

“Maybe some goalies say they don’t think of shutouts, but I do,” he said. “Trouble is it’s when you just start patting yourself on the back that you get beaten.”

Dryden was happy with his performance, but felt that debut jitters may have led to being exposed on rebounds that his teammates safely cleared.

“They had very few real good shots,” he said. “Sure I made a couple of reasonably difficult saves but I was warmed up to them after easier ones on the same shifts. I couldn’t wait until the game was over. I was really careless at times.”

Dryden would win his next five starts with the Canadiens, posting a 1.65 GAA, leaving McNeil to chose him over Vachon to lead the Canadiens into the memorable Stanley Cup quarter-finals against the first place Bruins.

A legend was born.

Did you know?: It’s well documented that Ken’s older brother Dave was an NHL goalie, as well the pair becoming the first brothers in the NHL to face off in opposing goals on March 20, 1971.

But on the night little brother Ken made his NHL debut, big brother Dave recorded a shutout, playing for the Buffalo Sabres, against the Minnesota North Stars. To top it off, he also recorded an assist.

“I’ll call him Monday,” Dave Dryden said. “Yeah I’ll call collect. It was a perfect night.”

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