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Fractured NHL could learn from the Dryden brothers

Forty years ago next week, two brothers met face to face in an otherwise obscure hockey game. Dave Dryden of the Buffalo Sabres was the goaltender at one end of Memorial Auditorium. Ken Dryden had the same job for the visiting Montreal Canadiens at the other end.

It was Sunday, Dec. 10, 1972. It was my first National Hockey League game.

I had fallen under the spell of the Montreal mystique a few months earlier when the Canadiens, a team that had struggled just to get into the playoffs, captured the Stanley Cup. Ken Dryden was named the most valuable player of the postseason.

Naturally, I wanted to see this team in person. Naturally, I asked my father to drive me to Buffalo in advance to buy tickets. Naturally, he did.

I knew there were only a limited number of tickets available for any Sabres home game. What I didn’t know was that there was a cap on how many tickets each person could purchase.

We were only going to be able to buy a total of four, leaving some of my high school friends disappointed by the outcome.

The ticket line snaked through the lobby of the Aud, and I nervously wondered if there would be any seats left by the time we got to the window.

There were. We would be sitting in the last row of Section 36, highest point in the building, our heads against the cold, stone wall.

I was thrilled.

The day finally arrived and we headed to Buffalo with two of my friends.

I remember dad parking beneath one of the overpasses that still crisscross the Aud site. This was a trip to the big city, a moment like no other.

We arrived later than expected, and the two teams were already on the ice for their warm-ups. I ran to the Montreal zone armed with my first 35mm camera and four rolls of 36-exposure black and white film. I was already afflicted with the lifelong curse of not being satisfied by just watching a game; I had to photograph it as well.

While future Buffalo legends Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreault were skating a couple of hundred feet away, I was getting shots of Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer.

Naturally, I bought a program. I might have eaten a hot dog. I don’t remember.

What I do recall is what a fast start the Sabres got off to that night.

They scored first and effectively held off their opponents wearing the magnificent bleu, blanc et rouge.

Buffalo won 4-2. Most of the fans headed for the exits when the game ended, but I knew there would be one final scene in this, my first NHL experience.

As the two teams headed toward their respective exits at our end of the rink, the Dryden brothers approached each other and shook hands. Dave had beaten Ken, whose No. 29 would one day be retired by the Canadiens.

That moment in time was the last photograph I took that night in Buffalo.

It was, of course, more than a hockey game.

My dad and I took in a few more as time passed, although he never lived to see his grandson play.

I think now of all the missed opportunities for families to share their first NHL game as the league continues to cancel blocks of games while the lockout drags on. It is difficult for me to relate to the intricate issues that are keeping the two sides apart.

Truthfully, I don’t care how much the players are paid or how much of the revenue stream is claimed by the owners.

All I want is to be able to drive downtown, park under the overpass and watch the warm-up. Dave and Ken Dryden battled against each other 40 years ago. Naturally, when it was all over, they shook hands.


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