I’ve been thinking a little more about “At the Crease” – Ken Danby’s picture of the hockey goalie.

It sits in my cubicle at work – so i can actually have a good look at it today.

The net in the picture looks like it’s old, and well worn. It’s not the bright red of the NHL net, but rather has a number of puck marks along the sides of it and has string loos on top. There’s even a repair in the lower left-hand corner where one can imagine that a skate has sliced the net, and some rink rat has tied the mesh back together.

I like the goalie’s blocker. I have this blocker. Or at least, one that’s beat up and worn just like it. We use it to play ball hockey. The Northland goal stick that the keeper holds has even more puck marks on it – reminders of saves from games before.

The goalie is in a great position. He’s crouched and ready to face a shot. I remember seeing an old 80s goaltending video where the commentor showed a 10 year old kid and a 19 year old OHL player side by side and showed how both of them got really low to face the shot. That’s the pose the goalie is in “At the Crease”. It’s authentic.

The goal pads are beaten in, and they too can be found in my garage at home. His trapper looks rather useless by today’s standards. Today the puck just has to hit the trapper for it to get caught by the keeper. This goalie’s glove would take a lot of work to close. We have one of those style goalie gloves too. The bottom half of it is bent and it would take real skill to catch a ball in its non-existent pocket. But, from time to time when i’ve played net and wanted to play “old time hockey” i’d use that glove and pretend I was Ken Dryden, or Terry Sawchuk, or, thanks to some Esso Legends of Hockey cards, Lorne “Gump” Worsley. And for reasons I’ll never know i also linked that glove to Don Edwards – who my brothers and I nicknamed “The Snake” for no particular reason.
We’d use the beat up equipment and play in the basement. Good times.

I also like the goalie’s jersey. There is no logo on the chest. It reminds me of so many late night intramural hockey games in university. It was just about getting out there and playing in the middle of the night. This picture takes me to that place as well. (Though our goalie’s equipment was a little more advanced than the guy in “At the Crease”.)

Position, posture, and equipment make Ken Danby’s picture so striking. And so Canadian.

I recently returned from a trip to England where I went to watch a couple of soccer games. On the way to one of the games I stopped at the new Wembley stadium where England play all their major football matches.
On the way into the stadium there are wall murals of various sports, including ice hockey. Or at least, what appears to be ice hockey.
The players in the mural are wearing skates – but their position is all wrong.
The player has a short stick – it looks to be something you’de use for field hockey. The goalie is all wrong.
He’s not square to the shot. He’s wearing what appears to be player’s gloves – certainly not a blocker or trapper. His pads are tiny – they look like rolled up newspaper. In short, aside from the players being on skates, it’s not ice hockey at all. Which, getting back to Danby’s picture, is all the difference.

By capturing an authentic goalie look (even if it is the 1972 version of the goalie with the stand up style of play) Danby captured in one painting a true likeness of hockey. How hockey feels, how hockey smells. I’ve worn those pads, I’ve chafed my hands in that old blocker, and, while we don’t wear it, we even have one of those old style goalie masks.

Yesterday when I wrote about Danby passing away it sort of hit me. I don’t, or didn’t know anything about the man, who he was, or what he was doing up in Algonquin Park. But, through his painting “At The Crease” he knew a lot about me, about our collective shared experiences when it comes to hockey, and one of the things that help define our Canadian nationalism and character.

Because I tell you, I had a ton of fun telling my English friend everything that was wrong with the Wembley ice hockey mural. Just as I’m happy to talk about how “At the Crease” illustrates so many things that are right.

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