THE TORONTO SUN
Sunday, October 24, 1999
Ken Dryden spent a large part of his life leaning on a hockey stick and preventing pucks from entering the net.
He thought that particular role and his subsequent law studies were enough to serve his future. Two years ago he was offered the position of president of the Maple Leafs and the thousands of problems that go with it.
"One could say that we completed a three-year job in a year and a half," he told me in the corridor of the Old Mill, as dozens of people interrupted our conversation by asking for his autograph. "We moved from one arena and opened another. We took on another franchise (the Raptors)."
And we also had to build a team. The hardest part of my job is my determination to make the Leafs a championship team. It's not an easy job. You have to be patient to become a champion. At the same time, you have to be relentless. It's a tough job to have a pretty good team. It's a tougher job to be better than that.
"Dryden is well aware that in order to reach his goal, changes have to be made. He and general manager/coach Pat Quinn talk frequently about team improvements, just as Punch Imlach and King Clancy used to debate player moves before they came up with a team that won four Stanley Cups in six years.
Sometimes letting players go is not a happy occasion for Dryden and Quinn. But these decisions have to be made in order to support the rest of the players so they have a chance to reach the top and sip champagne from hockey's Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup.
"Sometimes you bite your tongue before moving a player," Dryden said. "However, you must never lose sight of where you want to get. Losing Sylvain Cote was such an experience. He's a real pro, hard-working and always prepared to play. "Since his first shift in the first game for our team right to the last minute of the last game he gave all he had. It was tough to give up a player of his character. But to give ourselves a chance to improve, we had to make the move." Dryden wasn't very comfortable talking about players the Leafs had to give up in his quest to improve the team. The highly intelligent lawyer and former Ontario Youth Commissioner preferred to talk about the pleasant experiences during his two years as president of the Leafs.
Choosing his words carefully, so players didn't come back at him and ask to renegotiate their contracts, Ken put on his hat as hockey analyst in Harry Neale fashion.
"Probably my most pleasant experience was the feeling in the city during last year's playoffs," Dryden said. "It was a great feeling. Any time you can make people happy, it makes you feel good.
"I thoroughly enjoyed how Sergei Berezin developed. Daniil Markov's spirit impressed me. I like Tomas Kaberle's poise and smartness. It was also good to see how Mats Sundin grew in stature and how Dimitri Yushkevich came into his own."
I listened with interest to his observations, but I wanted to get his prediction about Leafs' Stanley Cup chances.
"Yes, we have a shot at the Stanley Cup," he said convincingly. "However, we've got to get much better between now and next spring. The team that improves most during that period will win the Stanley Cup."
He didn't tip his hand about future plans. But knowing his competitive spirit, he won't stop at this juncture. The acquisition of Dmitri Khristich is but one piece in the Dryden puzzle. There will be others. Indeed, it will be a different team in April from the one fans are cheering for right now. I have the feeling that this could be Leafs' big year and the first real fan celebration in 32 years.
Congratulations to Victor Deschenes, owner of Expedite Plus, on being named owner of the year for claiming horses by the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Tino Attard was named trainer of the year...Condolences to the family of Hugh Bolton, former ace Maple Leafs defenceman, who was buried last Thursday ... Former NHLer Pat Hickey showed up with a shiner at the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. He coached a kids' team and an overenthusiastic youngster poked him in the eye while facing off ... Donovan Bailey also appeared at the door of the Etobicoke dinner, but only to check out the Old Mill rooms where his friend will get married ... Congratulations to John Downing, former editor of The Toronto Sun, who was elected president of the Canadian National Exhibition. It was Toronto's best kept secret. Hopefully, John will steer the money-losing organization in the right direction.
Copyright 1999, The Toronto Sun Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.