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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The ultimate meaning of life is to embrace that which compels you to act in spite of fear.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At the Crease ... at a distance

A few weeks ago I was in the throes of shingles and therefore sleeping every spare moment I could get, when the goalie who posed for Ken Danby's renowned painting, At the Crease, was revealed as Dennis Kemp, a junior B player who guarded the net for the Biltmore Mad Hatters back in 1972 and 1973.

This is not news now. Far from it. A few weeks have passed, after all. But it was news to me when about a week ago members of my family forwarded me this link to the Guelph Mercury.

While I won't claim to be a lifelong Danby aficionado, I can say without hesitation that the image of that determined, menacing goaltender was definitely a part of my youth. I would go so far as to say it was the quintessential goalie: fearless, steady, and ready to spring, so tense with potential energy that his stillness is like motion.

The image's significance, personally and on a national level, was well captured by David Akin.

At the Crease haunted me from a distance most of my life, as I was around six years old when the painting was done, and I only saw it a handful of times throughout my life. But it's power was undeniable when I saw it again last week.

What also haunted me throughout my youth was my desire to find my mother's roots, as she was adopted during the Second World War. There's a whole story there, of course. Our family's eventual discovery of our biological family was captured in my CBC Outfront documentary, The Secrets of Stanley Mission, in which I explore the reasons why my mother was given up for adoption and the life of my biological grandfather, Everett Kemp.

... You may see where this is going...

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I realized that the Dennis Kemp of the Danby story is in fact my first cousin once removed! He lives out west. I have a picture of him, which I won't share here out of respect for the universality of THE goalie and the privacy of a family member. If another journalist or writer finds a picture of Dennis and shows it, so be it.

When I first decided to blog again after a regrettably long hiatus, I was going to talk about my shingles, which have subsided, both physiologically and mentally. Yes, this illness is dramatic in that it is painful and relatively rare among youngish middle-aged adults. But the discovery that I am connected to someone who was likely involved in the creation of an image that has filled me with awe and pride in our national pass-time, this seemed worthy of my return to blogging.

Now, some have questioned the truth of Kemp's connection to Danby's iconic work, and one blogger even impugned the quality of the journalism involved in this story. I will leave the critics, doubters, and naysayers to their arguments.

While At the Crease belongs to all of us, my angle on this story is my own.