It was July 1, 2014. I was sitting on my couch watching the USA play Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16. Shortly after the game went into extra time, my phone buzzed with a text message from Mike Valley (Goalie Coach, Dallas Stars). It said “Watch this then call me please!” followed by a link to a video.
After Team USA lost in dramatic fashion, I watched the video, which was a compilation of a number of NHL goalies making great saves in front of some high-energy music, and some text mentioning a goalie camp in Madison (Wisconsin) in August. I called Mike and we talked for fifteen minutes about what he was looking to put on. He told me all the high-profile names that were going to be there, and how awesome of an experience it was going to be. Mike mentioned that the Directors of Goaltending for both Sweden and Finland were going to be there too, flown in especially for his camp. Valley then added “And I was thinking ‘I gotta get Jason involved in this’, so we’d love for you to photograph a couple of days for us if you’re available”.
I about dropped the phone.
Of course I accepted without hesitation. After getting the details, all I had to do then was wait until the end of August, which (I guess) came soon enough.
Upon arriving at the LaBahn Arena in Madison for my first day of shooting, I couldn’t find Valley, so I asked one of the workers at the arena, who then asked Brian Elliott (St Louis Blues), and Mr Elliott escorted me to where Valley was already talking with the rest of his coaches. Mike introduced me to David Alexander (Goalie & Video Coach, Syracuse Crunch), Thomas Magnusson (Team Sweden), and Hannu Nykvist (Team Finland) as “… the guy who takes the best hockey photographs I’ve seen”. I’m not rendered speechless very often, but I absolutely was at that moment. I also met Chuck and Dan from Double Blue Sports Analytics, whom I’ve been in contact with for over a year regarding photographing for them.
I head to the locker room to get my gear ready, and lace up my skates. Just a few steps away is the ice, which is as beautiful of a surface as I’ve ever seen in my life. LaBahn Arena truly is a world-class facility. A swift skate to the bench to make sure my cameras are set exactly how I need them to be, and I’m ready to go. It was pretty cool to then turn around and see a herd of (very large) goaltenders skating towards me. First up was the obligatory group shot of all coaches and players involved. They lined up in a half circle at center ice and I snapped a quick burst of three, and we were ready to begin. I do quick bursts of three shots on every group photo to ensure that if anyone’s blinking I have a backup where they likely aren’t.
Being on the ice with all these high-profile guys was surreal. A friend of mine, Justin Goldman (Goalie Scout for USA Hockey, and Owner of The Goalie Guild) was out there as well doing his thing. I skated up to him during one of the drills and said, “You know, sometimes you just have to set the camera down for a second and watch these guys”. He replied, “I know right, this is unreal”.
Photographing with two cameras while being out on the ice in skates isn’t exactly the safest way to go about getting images of goaltenders (especially for someone whose skating skills are a bit rusty), but it is the BEST way. Moreover, it yields the highest reward for your work. There were a number of times where, after paying attention to the drill, I could position myself out of harm’s way and get outstanding angles and images that wouldn’t be possible from behind the glass, or even from the bench area. Regardless of where I’m shooting from, I photograph hockey with both eyes open to help ensure that I don’t get cracked with a stray puck. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened though, as I recall a mammoth bruise on the side of my right knee after taking a puck off the post at a camp a few summers ago. In my defense though, I was photographing the opposite direction and couldn’t have seen it coming. That one hurt.
One of my cameras had my trusty 70-200mm f/2.8 lens which is my workhorse. The other sporting a 35mm f/1.4 for outstanding closer shots, along with a wider view. Those times when I could position myself in just the right spot were perfect for being able to fill the frame with these world-class athletes. And at 35mm, I was incredibly close to the action. It’s very important that while I’m out on the ice during these camps to not get in the way or cause any disturbances, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the right mix of spots to shoot from and not be in the way.
After the first day, I went home to download all 650 images, organize, and go through them one by one. This was essential to figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and gave me ideas on how to make the final day of shooting even better than the first.
The second day of camp was the most interesting for sure. Maybe it was the different drills, or maybe it was me just being that much more comfortable with everything. I was able to get different angles, and actually get even closer than the previous day. Mike had even invited a local hockey camp out to watch the practice, and a number of people showed up, which I thought was really cool.
After the ice time on day two, Mike and I were talking about his plans for the same type of camp next year, and he asked if I could attend. Once again I accepted, also stating that next time I would love to photograph all of the off-ice activities as well, workouts, video review, etc. to help him promote his camps even better. I’m excited to say that not only is he totally on board with that, but he said if I wanted to I could go photograph the video/classroom session with Thomas Magnusson and a few of the goalies right then, which I did. I can’t wait for the camp next year, which promises to be even bigger and better than the one this year.