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The Game Hardcover – October 10, 2003
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Widely acknowledged as the best hockey book ever written and lauded by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 10 Sports Books of All Time, The Game is a reflective and thought-provoking look at a life in hockey. Intelligent and insightful, former Montreal Canadiens goalie and former President of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ken Dryden captures the essence of the sport and what it means to all hockey fans. He gives us vivid and affectionate portraits of the characters â Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, and coach Scotty Bowman among them â that made the Canadiens of the 1970s one of the greatest hockey teams in history. But beyond that, Dryden reflects on life on the road, in the spotlight, and on the ice, offering up a rare inside look at the game of hockey and an incredible personal memoir. This commemorative edition marks the 20th anniversary of The Game's original publication. It includes black and white photography from the Hockey Hall of Fame and a new chapter from the author. Take a journey to the heart and soul of the game with this timeless hockey classic.
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Mr. Dryden, star goalie for the vaunted Montreal Canadiens, is widely regarded as one of the best at his position to ever play. He is also widely regarded as one who retired at least a few seasons too early. It is from this foundation that "The Game" builds from. The book essentially charts Mr. Dryden's decision to retire from the game based on a fading lack of drive and interest in playing at that level (he was studying for a degree in law at the time), and then follows he and the Canadiens' routine through a portion of a season. He provides the reader a very unique look at the travel, the routine of practice, the struggle to maintain team performance at a championship-caliber level, the games themselves, and the game of hockey in general. In the case of the Canadiens teams he played on, he doesn't convey a sense that there was a raucous, salacious environment. Even though he does hint at the struggle to satisfy the indivdual egos, Mr. Dryden doesn't linger on it too long, choosing instead to put the reader inside his mind - in a manner of speaking - as he observes, prepares, and plays the game.
If there is a drawback to "The Game", it is that its focus on hockey - although Mr. Dryden wisely avoids getting into too much technical detail about the game - and intellectual tone may not be for a wide audience. Those that take the time to read it will take away a lot of very interesting observations on the mindset of a professional athlete, regardless of sport. "The Game" is indeed worthy of the high praise it has acquired since its publication, and it is still relevant after all these years.
The book is intensely personal. There are poems, superstitions, and odd reflections ("Even now, watching TV or reading a newspaper, I like to have a ball in my hands, fingering its laces, its seams, its nubby surface, until my fingertips are so alive and alert that the ball and I seem drawn to each other (p. 133)). The candor is appealing, if a bit over the top at times. There are frequent digressions into non-hockey topics, but these are short and not insufferable.
I really enjoyed Dryden's outline of the history of the sport: how the rules evolved over time, what it means to Canada's identity, and how commercialization and the way youth play the game today have changed the sport. Dryden is a gifted writer, and this book is a must read for hockey fans.
Only two drawbacks that kept me from giving this a perfect rating:
The tangent near the end about the evolution of Canadian vs. Soviet hockey seemed to drag the book down. This book is full of such tangents, but none this long or tedious. Perhaps it's due to the fact that the personalities that make this book so interesting are missing while the author discusses dump-and-chase vs. angled passing strategies for pages on end.
The second issue is that I was hoping we'd keep going. The book seems to end prematurely, and we get a recap of further events afterward. But that's a minor issue since the "story" is not the point of the book. We're not getting the tale of a season, but an examination of what makes a professional team and its athletes tick. In that regard, this may be the best sports book ever written.
You will likely ask yourself, as I did often, "This guy was a professional athlete?"
Ken Dryden is many things. Reading The Game you can see why he took a year off from professional hockey to finish his law degree. You can see a person like this going on to be many things in life including a significant political figure in Canada.
The Game will help you understand hockey (a little), sports (a little more) and people (a lot).
The book also left me a little sad. Why doesn't America produce Ken Drydens?
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and "systems" hadn't corrupted the sport.Read more