Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Favorite author

When I was in Canada recently, I picked up an update on my favorite author.

That's probably the only time you'll read Ken Dryden described that way.

Dryden is a former goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. He had one of the great starts to a career in pro history after finishing at Cornell. Dryden came up late in the season and started in the 1971 playoffs against the Boston Bruins. Now, this Bruin team might have been the best offensive team in NHL history, relatively speaking. They had the four top scorers in the NHL that season, and they had company. Esposito, Orr, Cashman, Hodge, Bucyk, Sanderson, McKenzie, Stanfield, and on and on. You probably could compare the group to the Eighties' Edmonton Oilers.

Dryden came in for the first round, and beat the Bruins. Then he helped Montreal win the Stanley Cup. He was so inexperienced, he was still eligible for the Rookie of the Year trophy the next season. Oh, he won that too. Dryden went on to win a bunch of other Cups as well.

This was not a typical goalie. He went to law school while playing; he liked the contrast in jobs. He retired at the top of his game, and never played goalie again after 1979. Dryden played defense in some pick-up leagues.

While everyone realized Dryden was smart, no one was sure just how thoughtful he was until he turned into a writer. His book on his time with the Canadiens, "The Game," is considered a classic. Then he wrote a couple of other books. Dryden's biography of a typical suburban Canadian is brilliant, mostly because of the author's patience. You can see him sitting with his subject, asking subtle little questions that reveal much about personality. Dryden also spent a year at a high school, again watching and taking notes. Wonderful stuff.

I had to be the only person in North America to be disappointed that Dryden took over as head of the Maple Leafs for a while, because it meant no more books. He had some success in that role, but couldn't quite get the Leafs over the top and moved into politics.

That's where he is now. A National Post writer (Canadian daily) took him to an Ottawa restaurant to watch a hockey game on television, something he hadn't done this season. Dryden had been a Cabinet minister for a while, but lost the job when his party fell out of power. His personality remains the same, according to the story. The slowest job in the country is campaigning with Dryden, because he won't give a yes-or-no answer when he's out with people. Dryden actually takes the time to think about his answers. He was one of those guys in sports whose answers were better than the questions, and he hasn't lost his touch.

The thought struck me that Dryden may be following the career path of another American athlete-turned-politician, Bill Bradley. Both men have been considered ready for big things for some time. Bradley had his chance at Presidential politics, but he couldn't beat Al Gore in 2000. The former Princeton basketball player wasn't a baby-kisser and hand-shaker by nature either.

Dryden's political career is hardly over, and there are no doubt more chapters in his story ahead as he attempts to become the leader of the Liberal party. (See his Web site, http://www.kendryden.ca.) But so far it's easy to think that he's an international example of a common thought about politics: the best people to be leaders don't make the best candidates.

On the other hand, he can always go back to writing.

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