Ever since I was a kid I thought the subject of Ken Danby’s famous painting, At the Crease, was Ken Dryden. I was never told it was Dryden and I never read that it was Dryden, I just assumed it was. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as demonstrated by this anecdote from Danby himself:
“One day, a woman complimented me on my painting ‘At the Crease’, which she referred to as, “That painting you did of the goalie, Ken Dryden”. She said that she had long had a print of it in her home and really enjoyed it. I thanked her, but also explained that, “It isn’t an image of Ken Dryden”. Looking puzzled, she replied, “Yes it is.” I responded, “No it isn’t. ” After a long pause, she loudly exclaimed, “Yes it is!” I quickly apologized, with the sudden realization that she was right. It’s really whomever one wants it to be.”
He’s right. I guess I should have thought it was an image of me! But now I’ve decided the subject is Vladislav Tretiak. Today the IIHF’s all-time all-star team was announced and to nobody’s surprise Tretiak was selected as the goalie. I went searching for Tretiak photos and the first one I found was the one you see above. Is it not scarily similar to Danby’s painting? At the time of the painting we were living in fear of the Reds so there’s no way Danby would have truly made it look like Tretiak by using the same helmet/mask (besides, the stark white mask is far more powerful). But the painting was released in 1972, the same year Tretiak was introduced to the world with his stellar play in the Canada-USSR Summit Series.
I don’t know if Danby ever acknowledged one specific subject for his iconic painting and sadly he passed away last fall so I will never have the chance to ask him. But I guess I know what his answer would be anyway… “of course it’s Tretiak, it’s whomever you want it to be.”
UPDATE: Apparently the subject of At The Crease was Dennis Kemp, a Junior B goalie in Guelph who played for Walter Gretzky. There’s a good read here on how his identity was tracked down after Danby’s death and how Wayne Gretzky once made a slip on protecting Kemp’s identity.