"Know thyself", says Thales, or Pythagorus, or some one of five Greek philosophers. In our end is our beginning, and as the Red Wings finish whomping the Calgary Flames in their first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it occurs to me that my interest in hockey, and indifference to football or the NBA, might have something to do with certain traits I admire that I see acted out in the most intense hockey games.

It is a very Arthurian sport. They play for a grail, there are gallant knights (and some villains) in armor, and the Stanley Cup, grail-like, is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. There are four rounds in the playoffs, 5 games in each round, before you get to the Cup. Lots of sports reward strength and flash and speed and instinct, but this one rewards endurance. Guys play hurt more than any other sport, badly hurt. Picture a determined squirrel chewing through an oak board while predators are trying to eat him and scare him away from his goal, but he keeps going back and gnawing, gnawing. "Anyone can win a fight--when the odds are easy! It's when the going's tough when there seems to be no chance! That's when it counts!" (see Stan Lee/ Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider Man #33; Frank Miller/ Bruce Wayne, "Batman: Year One"; et alii)

Come to think of it, didn't Isak Dinesen, whose photograph talked me out of suicide one night twenty-five years ago, say that her motto was "je endure"?

Me, I'm not especially tough or strong in physical contests, but I'm good at enduring, a stubborn trait sometimes enough to compensate for my weaknesses. (Lest anyone feel a need to get Hemingway macho on my ass, I should probably mention my creatively vicious streak as well. One improvisation involves a squirrel. And nuts.)

I enjoy the skill in baseball and am awestruck by the human beauty of the Olympics, but hockey's combination of nobility (Stevie Yzerman) and brutality (the goons like to pick on the Europeans and the finesse guys, thinking them less likely to fight back-- then Chris Chelios, coming to the defense knocks the bully on his ass with a comically contemptuous expression of dismissal), mischief (Kris Draper our drama coach, checking his chin and pretending to look for blood whenever an opposing player brushes past him) physical grace and near surgical skill (have you ever seen a Russian skater like Datsuk or Federov weave through a line of defenders?)-- this touches me deeply.

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