JOHN DeMONT: Finding the universal in fabled goalie Ken Dryden’s mask
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Jim McMinn was a 1970s-era parent, which meant he loved his children, but showed that love, his son Glen says, not with obvious signs of affection, but “by going to work every day.”
However, the son vividly remembers two fatherly things his father did: First, he allowed his boy to play Hooky at school in Toronto so they could both see King Kong in the movies.
The other was to give a special book to his son, a dyslexic who was later diagnosed with dyslexia. It was called The Game, the best piece of literature ever written about ice hockey, by legendary Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden.
That meant a lot because watching sport on TV was a place where the father, who died aged 64, and his son, who is now 57 and lives in Halifax, felt a bond.
If they could agree on one thing, it was that Dryden was the player above all others.
So, when McMinn talks about his latest paintings, you get what he means when he says they started out expressing what hockey meant to Canada and Dryden meant to hockey, but over time he discovered they “had a lot to do with it.” had to do with the (father-son) relationship.”
The paintings, two floor-to-ceiling oil paintings of Dryden’s hockey mask, are impressive.
McMinn is a realist. There, in an oversized painting tentatively dubbed “Dryden” – because that’s what the world saw when the legendary goalkeeper stood in the goal area – you can see every scratch and cut on the outside of the mask.
But McMinn, who has also worked in film and until a few years ago was an architect at a company that helped clients transform their brands into built design, is also a storyteller.
Describing his painting career, which began in earnest at the onset of the pandemic, as “finding the thing you always wanted to do but didn’t know,” he was spurred on by the knowledge that both his mother and father were dying at 64, which meant he had better start.
It was his idea to paint the mask’s concave interior, stained with sweat and breath from each of Dryden’s drills and games, to show the world as the goalkeeper saw it himself, as befits a canvas with the Working title “Ken. ”
McMinn insists what he’s doing isn’t hockey art; he uses this game that unites the country as surely as the CNR to find universal themes and show the world as he sees it.
A visit to his home studio makes this clear: a painting of his son – now playing for a prep school in New Hampshire – carrying his kit to hockey tryouts at the Halifax Forum is about children and getting on in life; another, a faceless youth on skates, speaks of the isolation felt by so many during the pandemic; in House League MVP you can almost smell the rink and feel the Saturday morning chill in a trio of hockey gloves from different eras; Three paintings of Rink-Eis before, during and after a game reflect the stages of an NHL journeyman’s career and thus of life.
On one wall is a selfie after McMinn’s last hockey fight at age 40. Nearby is a portrait of Mark Connors, the teenage Halifax goalkeeper who was subjected to racial slurs at a tournament in 2022.
Missing on the day we visited was Marchy, the painting of Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand’s glove that McMinn made to raise funds for Jake Thibeault, a Massachusetts teenager who suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed when he woke up hit the boards.
“When I heard his story, I just burst into tears,” McMinn told me. “I was ‘what can I do, what can I do?’
He came into contact with the family and Marchand through connections. The end result: 63 limited-edition prints intended as a visual biography of the rowdy Lower Sackville star, each priced at $2,500, all destined for Thibeault and his family.
The Dryden connection was made in the same way. McMinn’s friend Shaune MacKinlay is Halifax Mayor Mike Savage’s chief of staff, an old friend of Dryden’s from when they were both Liberal MPs in Ottawa.
“What I really wanted to know from mutual friends,” Dryden told me in a phone interview, “is this a serious person who is serious and respectful of the matter.”
First was the idea that McMinn could paint one of his goalie gloves, except Dryden informed him that all of his gear was in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He still had his last pair of skates, which he wore in 1979 when the Canadians won their last of five Stanley Cups with Dryden in the cage.
And Dryden also had his mask, the second of only two he wore throughout his career.
By the time he got into the NHL, masks were scarce and “every coach and fan assumes that[anyone who wore one]wasn’t tough enough to be a goalie,” he said. Except that he started his career at Cornell University, where masks were mandatory, so for him the whole mask yes-or-no debate was over because it had to be.
“People are looking at them now – the first barely covering the front of my face, the second a little more – laying flush on my face with no foam padding and thinking how exposed we were,” he said. “What we had before was nothing. They were amazingly protective from our point of view.”
He cannot remember who made the mask, which he still has, although someone named Carl Lamb painted the Montreal Canadiens’ colors on the mask: red, white, and blue in what is known as a bull’s-eye design.
But he recalled how it felt when a puck hit him — “it would shake you up” — and also how a mask made others “always see me as composed, calm and almost expressionless,” never mind what emotions she was hiding.
Due to the pandemic, Dryden has yet to see the paintings, which are based on countless electronically sent photos of the mask, in person.
The pictures he saw “look great,” he said.
“The detail is one thing,” added Dryden. “Then there is the essence of something that conveys and evokes the detail.”
The NHL star is touched that McMinn found the mask noteworthy. Then there’s the way the images take something he’s seen 100 or 1,000 times before and give it a whole new context, “as something important in itself.”
He told me that he hadn’t noticed the nicks and cuts on the outside of the mask – which aren’t from pucks and sticks, but from years of tossing them in Dryden’s gear pockets – any more than he had seen the yellowish stain on the inside of this thing he wore them like a second skin if they weren’t on a screen as high and wide as a cinema screen.
Every bit of it means something to him.
“Now,” Dryden says of the paintings that have yet to find a home after leaving McMinn’s gallery, “it’s getting interesting for others, too.”