Puck Off

March 16, 2011 

This job exposes you to a wide variety of people, events, rituals and sports. And while I definitely don't enjoy them all, I usually gain some measure of understanding and appreciation for the things I cover. Before I started here, my knowledge of hockey was limited to Gretzky-endorsed video games, Mighty Ducks references and baseless scoffing at Fox's glowing puck experiment. Seeing the marriage of brutality and grace in person is pretty impressive, though, and photographing Americans home games grew on me pretty quick.

It's not an easy sport to photograph, and I'm often pressed for time during the regular season. The 20-minute intermissions between periods also have a way of hamstringing the amount of coverage non-playoff games usually get, but if I stick around for the second period, I almost always pop down behind the goal at the Zamboni entrance in hopes of a snagging a sweet goal photo. I lucked out as Radek Meidl snuck one between the goalie's legs one of the first times I tried this angle back in 2008,

which then assistant sports editor Mark McKenna liked enough to move the photo to the front of the sports section — quite a boon for me in my first year on staff.

In all my attempts since then, I've never had a similar situation line up like that. While I'm far from being a good hockey shooter, I'd like to think I'm proficient, but it's a fast, unpredictable sport at times, and just because you were in position for the goal, doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a good photo out of it.

Last Sunday's game is a good example. After maintenance crews replaced a broken pane at the start of the second period, the refs quickly resumed action. The Toyota Center worker had to hustle to close the gate in time and as he cleared out, I stepped up to the glass just in time to snap some haphazard frames of an Ams goal:

The Americans went on to score two more in that period:

It was a welcome dose of serendipity after a long Saturday shift capped off by the Tri-Citian of the Year banquet, which went way later than I had hoped.

I went with the second shot, which still didn't have the combination of shot and reaction that I would ultimately prefer, but I think it does the job, thankfully featuring Carter Ashton, who scored two goals that night and is in a post-shot posture along with the puck visibly in the net. The other two share the common flaw of simply having the puck in the net without much else to indicate why the photo is a significant moment worth publishing.

In fact, my favorite photos from that angle don't even featured scored goals. Sometimes it's a quirky moment before the piercing crack of a puck startles me:

Or maybe a frame that features the rowdy season ticket holders who enjoy talking smack to opposing goalies in addition to smacking the glass:

Sometimes it's just an interesting battle for the puck that catches my eye:

And it's always nice to get an in-your-face check:

I've even liked some shots across the rink,

and I think this snap captures some of the chaos of the sport:

But my favorite from behind the net is this photo of the Americans' Brendan Shinnimin celebrating as teammate Tyler Schmidt dislodges the net in mid-air after scoring.

It's too bad you can't see Schmidt's expression a little better through the net, but the goal was awarded after review, contrary to the ref's ruling in the photo.

I'll take the expressions and layers over seeing the puck in the net any day.

Despite the frequent frustrations of being there for the shot but not getting it, hanging behind the net and hearing the constant taunting by Ams fans alongside jovial goal judge Fred adds a fun, complementary ambiance to witnessing the ferocious finesse this sport has to offer. It's certainly preferable to the shirtless dancing of the third period.

If you're curious about the other angles I shoot from at Ams games, I've written about it previously.

Observant Ams fans may notice one angle that's missing, however. The spot between the benches is often occupied by photographers John Allen, left, and Doug Love:

While I'm often willing to push my luck to get closer to the action, a previous volleyball injury has made me seriously question the sanity of trying to get in there.

I don't like the sport that much.


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