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Ken Dryden gets personal, remembering historic 1972 hockey showdown in “The Series”

Ken Dryden didn’t want to write about the 1972 Summit Series.

Ken Dryden didn’t want to write about the 1972 Summit Series.

The Hall of Fame goalie has, over the past 50 years, helped with projects about the historic games between Canada and Russia, but whenever someone asked him to pen a book on the subject, he politely declined. The stories about have already been told, Dryden said.

Then COVID-19 hit.

With the borders closed and his kids and grandkids living in the U.S., his plans for Christmas 2020 quickly changed.

“So I had a few days where I wasn’t doing what I was imagining that we would be doing. I just said, ‘OK, if I was to write what I’m not going to write, what would I write?’” Dryden told The Canadian Press.

Relying solely on his own memories, he sat down and, “in a kind of a frenzy,” wrote his latest book: “The Series: What I Remember, What it Felt Like, What it Feels Like Now.” The hardcover was published Tuesday by McClelland & Stewart.

“It was unexpected, but it was fun to try to put it all together,” Dryden said.

Over 192 beautiful pages, the book combines one player’s memories of the Summit Series with photos, letters and other mementoes to give the reader a deeply personal glimpse at eight games that united a nation.

There’s a postcard sent to Timmins, Ont., by a Canadian who attended a game in Moscow. There are editorial cartoons that depicted the differences between Canadian and Russian hockey fans. There’s a scrap of envelope on which Canadian winger Frank Mahovlich drew up a play.

Some of the photos and objects surprised Dryden as he worked on the book, including a black-and-white photo taken at Simpsons department store in Toronto that shows hundreds of people watching, rapt, as the drama of Game 8 played out nearly 7,500 kilometres away.

These are the images Dryden and the rest of the team didn’t get to see nearly 50 years ago.

“It’s like ‘holy cow,’” he said. “We were in Moscow at that time. I would never have guessed that people would be watching in quite that way.”

Another item that captured Dryden’s attention was a journal entry from a young Igor Kuperman, chronicling in Russian every detail of Game 5, from the goals to the jerseys worn by each side.

In the entry, the author saw a universal experience.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that a kid in Red Deer would do who was just following this kind of a series,” he said. “They would do it with the same kind of love and commitment, and they would do it in their own way. But it would express the same thing.”

Dryden lets readers into his own personal journey, too, detailing in vivid colour what he remembers — and what he doesn’t — of the late summer and fall of 1972, including the moments before Game 1.

“I don’t remember flying to Montreal. I don’t remember the day of the game. I don’t remember the dressing room,” he writes. “All I remember is a feeling the kept building and building, growing and growing. It’s what happens before a Stanley Cup series, before a Stanley Cup final, but not like this.

“It built to where it couldn’t build anymore, grew to where it had no place left to grown, then it built and grew some more.”

They are details that transport a reader not only back to 1972 but to the ice, inside the helmet of a goalie who helped write history.

Dryden wanted his latest book to tell the story of the Summit Series in a way that people who didn’t experience the games nearly 50 years ago would understand.

“The only way to do it would be as if to put them there, to literally put them there in that moment,” he said. “And the moment, of course, isn’t just the moment, it’s the lead-in moments up to that.

“And so what would have been inside us as players? What would have been inside us as 22 million Canadians at that particular moment that made us react the way we did? And to generate the kind of vehement and vivid memories that have come from it.”