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Ken Dryden takes long way to All-Star Weekend

Canadiens great flies across country Sunday in time for ceremony in Los Angeles

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- Ken Dryden was a stand-up goaltender during an eight-season NHL career in the 1970s that earned him six Stanley Cup championships, five Vezina trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Calder Trophy and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

It was just this side of a miracle that Dryden was still vertical Sunday afternoon when he took his place on the Staples Center ice for the ceremonial puck drop preceding the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

Dryden wasn't here Friday to walk onto the stage as one of 67 of stars honored during "The NHL100 presented by GEICO" gala. At that hour, he was in his car, on the road to Ithaca, N.Y.

To the beginning:

Dryden was delighted to receive NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's call in November telling him he was on the list of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian. And then the Commissioner told him the date of the gala here.

"It was a predictable reaction when I heard I was on the list," Dryden said Sunday, at ice level of Staples Center for a TV interview. "I was really pleased, all the things you think and feel at that time.

"What I had to say to Gary right away was that I wouldn't be able to make it here this weekend and for a reason he would completely understand. On the same weekend in Ithaca, we had our 50th anniversary of the first Cornell University team to win an NCAA championship. Having gone to Cornell and experienced hockey most intensely first at Cornell, Gary knew why I had to be there."

Video: Ken Dryden won Conn Smythe before he won Calder

Added to Dryden's schedule on the same day as the gala in Los Angeles would be a concussion-research lecture and seminar hosted by McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute, at which he was enlisted as a keynote speaker.

"Still," Dryden said, "I was wondering, 'OK, let's see if there is a way. I can't be there Friday or Saturday but maybe there's a way I could get out of Ithaca to L.A. in time for Sunday's game."

In the end, he would move mountains to be here, on the 10th anniversary of the Canadiens' having retired his No. 29 jersey.

The former goalie and his wife, Linda, drove Friday morning from their home in Toronto to Montreal, then set off in the evening after the conference for Ithaca, a six-hour drive. They arrived at 4:15 a.m., the Cornell reunion beginning with a breakfast at 10 a.m.

"Ithaca is not an easy place to get into or out of," Dryden said. "There are three options with major cities - a flight into Detroit, one into Newark, New Jersey, and one into Philadelphia. The task was to find the earliest flight out of Ithaca on Sunday morning to what surely was a flight from one of those cities connecting into L.A. It turned out the best route was Detroit."

That flight got Dryden into Los Angeles shortly before 11 a.m. local time, about 90 minutes before he was expected to be on the ice for the opening ceremony of the All-Star Game.

"It was an adventure," he said, "but a nice kind of adventure."

Dryden's plan was to be on a red-eye flight out of Los Angeles Sunday night back to Philadelphia, then connect to Ithaca, his wife's hometown, where she stayed Sunday with her almost 97-year-old father.

The couple planned to then drive six hours home to Toronto.

"It was a really nice weekend," Dryden said. "These were all things I wanted to do and needed to do. Under certain circumstances, all of them could be done.

"And the reunion with Cornell," he said with a grin, "was terrific."

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