Dave Dryden, former NHL goalie, mask pioneer, dies at 81

Dryden died of complications from chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension surgery, according to the Kopriva Taylor Community Funeral Home in Oakville, Ontario.

“The National Hockey League mourns the recent passing of former goaltender, equipment innovator, educator and philanthropist Dave Dryden,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Respected and liked by all who were lucky enough to know him, Dryden made contributions to our game beyond his 17 seasons tending goal as a pro in the NHL and WHA — including a memorable game when he and brother, Ken, became the first siblings to play goal against each other in the NHL.

“In the mid-1970s, he reimagined the goalie mask, designing the combination fiberglass helmet and birdcage front that greatly increased protection, transformed the way the position could be played and remains the most popular in use today. After retirement, he worked with the League on refinements to equipment, always focused on better protecting athletes. He also pursued a lengthy post-playing career as an elementary school principal and ran the bed-providing charity Sleeping Children Around the World that his parents founded.

“We send our deepest condolences to Dave’s wife, Sandra, their two children and six grandchildren and all whose lives and careers were improved by his work. And, in his name, the NHL will be making a donation to Sleeping Children Around the World (which provides bed kits to children in developing countries)”

Born Sept. 5, 1941 in Hamilton, Ontario, Dryden’s NHL debut came in the earlier days of the so-called emergency back-up goalie. A member of Toronto of the Ontario Hockey Association (junior), the 20-year-old wandered into Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb. 3, 1962, as he often did, to watch the Maple Leafs play.

There was nothing unusual about the game between the home team and the visiting New York Rangers, until New York goalie Gump Worsley went down with an injury, carted off to the visitors’ dressing room 1:27 into the second period.

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: The Sabres are mourning the loss of former goaltender Dave Dryden.Our thoughts and prayers are with Dave���s family during this difficult time.💛💙

A call went up to Dryden and he was rushed down to the Rangers room, given Worsley’s heavy wool sweater and put in goal. He allowed three goals in the second and third periods during Toronto’s 4-1 win.

Dryden returned to the University of Waterloo to earn his teaching degree, and played goalie for Galt of the OHA (senior).

He was signed to a free-agent contract by the Chicago Black Hawks on March 12, 1965, a largely meaningless assignment given that workhorse Glenn Hall was the getting the majority of play. But Dryden relished his time as Mr. Goalie’s roommate away from Chicago.

Dave Dryden, age 20, makes his NHL debut for the New York Rangers in emergency relief of Gump Worsley at Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb. 3, 1962. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


“Glenn started bringing encyclopedias on the road,” Dryden told author Douglas Hunter in the 1995 book “A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending.”

“I’d say, ‘What are you reading?’ and Glenn would say, ‘Tonight, I’ve got A.’ And the next trip, he’d bring ‘B.’ He got such a delight out of it. When I idolized him like I did, I didn’t expect that from him. I imagined this real hardened guy with no sense of humor. But he was just terrific.”

Dryden played 120 games for the Buffalo Sabres between 1970-74, historically facing his brother, Ken, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum on March 20, 1971.

The first-ever brotherly “duel” only came to pass because of Sabres coach Punch Imlach, a showman who had a sense of occasion.

Brothers Ken and Dave Dryden in 1973, and Dave in the sweater of the Junior B Weston Dukes. He skipped over Weston and went directly into major junior with Toronto St. Mikes. Hockey Hall of Fame


Imlach tried to make history with the goaltending matchup, starting Dave in Buffalo’s net, thinking Montreal coach Al MacNeil naturally would start rookie Ken Dryden. But MacNeil went with Rogie Vachon, so Imlach pulled Dave Dryden two minutes into the first period, inserting Joe Daley.

Up 2-0, Vachon took a low shot from the Sabres’ Eddie Shack that drove him from the game 13:07 into the second period, sending Ken Dryden onto the ice. Imlach immediately put Dave back in, thrilling the Forum crowd that included Murray Dryden, who had driven down from Toronto just in case his sons faced each other.

It wasn’t the storybook finish that Murray or either of his sons wanted, however; Jacques Lemaire scored on Montreal’s first shot against Dave Dryden, an 85-footer.

“Not very good,” Ken said later when asked how he felt about that one beating his brother. “I knew Dave wanted to play well and, after all, we were ahead by a couple of goals. I might have felt different if it was a Stanley Cup game.”

In the end, Dave made 12 saves and Ken made 19 in the Canadiens’ 5-2 win.

“I was just family-proud that my brother was at the other end of the rink,” said Dave, happy he’d played against Ken for the first time in organized hockey. “There’s a six-year difference in our ages and I was always coaching him when we were kids.”

The Dryden brothers played against each other again in Montreal on October 28, 1972, a 3-3 tie between the Sabres and Canadiens.

Watch: Ken Dryden vs. Dave Dryden

Murray Dryden spoke of the relationship between his sons in an interview with the Montreal Gazette in 1971.

“Long before he was three, Ken idolized his brother and still does,” Murray Dryden said. “Everything Dave did, Ken had to do. With six years between them, that made it pretty tough, but the young one worked all the harder to succeed. The pressure was on him right from the start. Sometimes I think that’s why he can resist it so well now.”

Dave Dryden joined the World Hockey Association in 1974, playing first for the Chicago. With Edmonton, he allowed Wayne Gretzky’s first goal as a pro, when he was a rookie with Indianapolis, then was a teammate in Edmonton with Gretzky and Mark Messier.

In 1979 with Edmonton, Dryden won the Gordie Howe Trophy as the WHA’s most valuable player, and the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the league’s top goalie, when he was 41-17 with two ties, a 2.89 goals-against average and three shutouts.

He returned to the NHL for his final pro season with the Edmonton Oilers in 1979-80, and finished his career in the league 69-76 with 27 ties, a 3.20 GAA, .896 save percentage and nine shutouts.

Dryden retired to a career in teaching in Mississauga, Ontario, later serving in the NHL’s front office at the head of the group that reviewed injuries and goaltending equipment and serving as the first chairman of Sleeping Children Around The World, founded by his father.

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