Book review: Dryden makes case for change in ‘Game Change’
Third-line defensemen — like Steve Montador — don’t make headlines until they make a mistake. Playing 10 minutes per game most of his career, it was Montador’s job to keep opponents off the scoreboard while the top defensemen took a short breather.
Montador played the last of his 571 NHL games in 2012. He’s best remembered for his 2004 Western Conference Final overtime playoff goal, and his death at age 35 in 2015.
Montador’s final years were spent fighting the effects of concussions. He willed his brain to scientists, who discovered he had suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive head trauma, most often found in athletes and combat veterans.
Montador is the subject of Ken Dryden’s new book “Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey” (Signal-Penguin Random House; 368 pages; $27.95).
Dryden tells Montador’s story of a player who had to work harder than others trying out for the team, from pee wee through the pros. He made the NHL undrafted. He wasn’t an enforcer, but would have a couple fights per season, grinding in the corners in the defensive end, trying to gain control of the puck, his back to the forward and face to the glass.
Dryden writes that his book is about “outrage and hope.” In clear and short sentences — “Baseball is a game to savor. Hockey is a game to feel.” — he reports what he’s learned from scientists, and Montador’s coaches, teammates, family and friends.
He’s also looking forward, outlining how hockey at all levels can prevent head injuries by outlawing every hit to the head and “finishing checks,” which he writes are not the natural flow of contact but an interference penalty as described in the NHL rulebook.
Dryden, a lawyer and former member of Canada’s Parliament, played the game. He was a Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens who in an eight-year career won six Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies as the league’s top goalie. While he played in the 1970s, which many consider the roughests era in the game’s history, Dryden acknowledges it wasn’t. The game and its players weren’t as fast or big as they are today, he writes. Shoulder pads then weren’t the weapons they can be today, and helmets can provide only so much protection.
Change can happen only when Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner since 1993 who never played the game, as Dryden points out multiple times, makes it a priority. So far, Bettman hasn’t, likely because the NHL faces litigation over head injuries from former players.
Dryden makes a compelling case for change, not only for the growing list of Steve Montadors, but for tomorrow’s young players who have yet to experience their first check.
— Peoria Journal Star Executive Editor Dennis Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dennisedit.