Hockey Legend Ken Dryden’sTips for Changing the Rules of Your Game

One of the world’s best hockey players, Ken Dryden wants to eliminate concussions from hockey. There are two key rule changes that he’s certain will do it:

1) Ban all hits to the head (head shots) and

2) Penalize players for “finishing their check” i.e.hitting the opposing player after they have just released the puck.

Seems straightforward to me.  As Dryden and many other have observed there is more than enough evidence that hits to the head cause brain injuries, reduced quality of life and in some cases early death. Particularly when they accumulate over the lifespan of a hockey player. He’s clear, “Hard hits to the head and many hits to the head are very bad things. This is about no hits to the heads, no excuses.”

Yet the rules don’t change.

Dryden  who knows more than a thing or two about hockey understands that they won’t change without changing “ the idea of hockey.”

So Dryden does something surprising. He decides to study the history of decision-making in hockey. Not for an hour or two but for two years. Not in the recent past but from the beginning of the game. This from a man who won the Vezina Trophy 5 times as top goalie, backstopped 6 Stanley Cup championships, was President of a professional hockey team for another 6 years and was named one of the 100 greatest NHL players in history. Plus he is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and has written several books about hockey. Yet he is still curious.

He is clearly someone who understands the importance of culture. His latest book Game Change describes what he learned. Those of us seeking to change the culture of our “game” can learn a few lessons from humble #29.

  1. Don’t assume. Pay attention, stay curious.  “When we enter things knowing, we stop seeing,” says Dryden. “What we need to do every so often is see what’s really there, what isn’t quite right, what’s changed. Not what we already ‘know’ is there. 
  2. The “way” is more important than the “will.” Dryden turns the expression “when there’s a will, there’s a way” on it’s head. He believes that what usually stops decision makers isn’t the will to change something but the lack of “doable hows.” These “doable hows” differ depending on the context, environment and history of the “game” you are playing.

It’s exciting to witness Ken Dryden as a change-maker. Just as exciting as when he “patrolled his crease.” We have a front row seat as chief hockey decision maker, Gary Bettman tries to stick-handle away from Dryden’s two practical solutions. Since he won most of his contests with hockey’s best on-ice stick-handlers, I’m betting on him doing the same with Bettman.

In the meantime if you want more lessons get his book or listen to CBC Ideas – “Ken Dryden and Changing the Idea of Hockey.” There’s a lot more to learn from him.


Inaction when you have no idea what to do is one thing. Inaction  when the answers are easy is inexcusable. ~ Ken Dryden

Musical accompaniment is Sawchuck by Newfoundland’s man of 1000 songs, Ron Hynes. For readers unfamiliar with ice hockey, Sawchuk is a legendary goalie who played hockey a generation earlier than Dryden.

Poetry accompaniment is an excerpt from “One of You” from Randall Maggs’ superb collection Night Work the Sawchuk Poems


Denied the leap and dash up the ice,
what goalies know is side to side, an inwardness of monk
and cell. They scrape. They sweep. Their eyes are elsewhere
as they contemplate their narrow place. Like saints, they pray for nothing,
which brings grace. Off-days, what they want is space. They sit apart
in bars. They know the length of streets in twenty cities.
But it’s their saving sense of irony that further
isolates them as it saves.

– from “One of You”


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A Bystanders’s Guide to Civility in a Time of Rage

A Desperado Waiting for a Train

First Leap, Bold; Second Leap, Wild

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