You’re familiar with the drill: In which the Royal We insert Dick Allen’s name into various works representative of the Western Canon, thus adding to those various works the patina of blessedness.
In today’s episode, Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden, in his seminal work on hockey, The Game, rightfully called “The greatest hockey book ever written,” waxes poetic about Dick Allen, the best hockey player you never knew about.
It’s not easy for a hockey player to dominate a game. A goalie, any goalie, can make a bad team win or a good team lose, he can dominate a result, but that is not the same thing. He cannot dominate a game, because, separate from the action of a game, he is not quite part of it.
In basketball, one man can dominate: usually a big man—Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—able to play most of the game’s forty-eight minutes, and, as with any goalie, it might be any big man. It comes with the position. But in hockey, seventeen players are rotated more or less equally five at a time, and rarely does anyone play much more than half a game. A forward or defenseman, a special forward or defenseman, might with unusual frequency find the right moment in a game and make a play that will swing a result. But for too long periods of time, the game goes on without him, and his impact can rarely be sustained. In the 1970s, only two players could dominate a game. One was Dick Allen, the other Bobby Clarke. Clarke, a fierce, driven man, did it by the unrelenting mood he gave to a game, a mood so strong it penetrated his team and stayed on the ice even when he did not. Dick Allen did it another way.