Hockey, for the casual fan – the guy who catches the highlights while at the bowling alley bar or tunes in for a period when the local team hits the playoffs – can be defined by one all-encompassing element of play: the fight.
That diehard fan? Fighting, save for the occasional benches-clearing melee that lasts the entire third period (like that unforgettable Flyers/Senators brawl from 2004), is passé and even a time waster. For the diehard, it’s all about the speed, the slapshot, the butterfly save, the hat trick. The play and the score are what truly matters. And Ken Dryden, former Montreal Canadiens goalie and Maple Leafs president, now author, would agree. With his latest, Game Change, Dryden skates deep into another issue: concussions that come as a result of body checking, and yes, fighting.
Game Change is an entertaining, enlightening read. The book is also an important one, and topically so. In Game Change, Dryden explores the life and career of Steve Montador, an everyman defenseman who played for six NHL teams and whose career ended as a result of multiple concussions. Montador died in 2015 after suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease commonly known as CTE, an acronym anyone who saw the Will Smith movie Concussion should recall.
Dryden cleverly disguises his treatise with an enjoyable look into hockey history, how the game started, and how it has evolved. Within is also Montador’s story: how he played, how he trained, and most importantly, how he loved the game. Yet, similar to the fighters and goons of the game, Dryden does not pull any punches as he throws down his gloves to present his call to arms: no hits to the head. No excuses.
Dryden writes like a hockey player. His sentences are short and clipped, he often repeats highlights he finds important to ensure the reader takes notice. He is also passionate, writing from the heart, even when he is talking about the mind. To do so, he presents interviews not only from scientists and doctors who share his philosophy of changing – and only slightly at that – the game of hockey to preserve the quality of life for the player, but also talks to players. Former Bruin Marc Savard, Flyers captain Keith Primeau, and someone named Sidney Crosby all share their stories and fears and recovery from post-concussion syndrome, how it has changed their play, and their lives.
Game Change is written for the casual fan, but the diehard will enjoy the deep cuts. More importantly, and even more important than hockey, the respect for life offered within is shown as a universal constant. That players, with their athleticism, their passion, their talent, are much more than just a product. Theirs is a life that should be cherished and celebrated. Dryden believes that is a constant on which everyone can agree. Unless, of course, you are NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.