Tom could do two things I always wanted to, but couldn't – sing, and wear a cowboy hat.
I first met Tom … in a hockey rink. It was after a concert in Huntsville, Ont. There's nothing glamorous about singing in a hockey rink in Huntsville. Nothing glamorous about a makeshift stage on a cement floor. Nothing glamorous about winding down after in a hockey dressing room – wooden benches, metal hooks, two-fours all around – in a room that months after the season had ended still smelled like a hockey bag – like 20 hockey bags.
But Tom was there because his fans were there, because Canada was there. He sang from something inside himself that had come from Saint John and Skinner's Pond, from Sudbury, Tillsonburg and Huntsville, from good times and bad times and everywhere in between. And if you sing from something real, you sing to something real – in all of us.
He didn't use many notes. He didn't use many words. Just the right number; just the right ones. All of them connected by the grit and granite of his voice. All of them connected by his proud, defiant, unconquerable, Canadian spirit.
I love The Hockey Song. When I was with the Leafs, during games there was one stoppage of play that was reserved. It was the long commercial break in the middle of the third period. On a bad night, the song was a brief respite. On a night that might go either way, it was a jolt of energy. But on a good night when everything was cooking, it was fantastic – "Oh, the good old hockey game is the best game you can name" – and for the 19,000 people and all the players, who could deny it. "And the best game you can name is the good old hockey game." And everybody sang. It was a celebration – of a team, a game. Us.
Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, please rise for our Hymne national du hockey, our National Hockey Anthem.
Ken Dryden, a former member of Parliament and an author, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played goal for the Montreal Canadiens from 1971 to 1979, and for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.