Monthly Archives: May 2013

Frank DiChiara: Becoming a Champion

He grew up an only child in Ronkonkoma, New York… a city of around 19,000 people on Long Island.  Even at just three years old he vividly remembers his mom taking him to a local rink to watch his cousin skate.  “Hey Mom, I wanna be like Jakie and do that!” – and thus began the hockey career of Frank DiChiara.

Frank at 5 years old.

Frank at 5 years old.  (Image courtesy of the DiChiara Family)

Even by the time he started school, hockey was already a big part of Frank’s life.  But like most kids, work before play was instilled from the beginning by his parents.  He stated, “I always was a good student, but hockey allowed me to excel both academically and athletically.  My parents always told me that my school work had to be done before I went to hockey practice and that value stuck with me throughout school.”  His father Ernie says, “He loved to smile, and just had a great sense of humor.  He was also a very focused student, and refused to accept that there was anything he couldn’t do.”  Growing up, there were signs above the kitchen doorway and in his room that said “BELIEVE“.  “We always told him to believe he can do anything” and those signs served as reminders.

5 year-old Frank, and his dad Ernie.

5 year-old Frank, and his dad Ernie.  (Image courtesy of the DiChiara Family)

Frank was also quite the catcher in baseball while growing up, a .500 hitter, and could absolutely CRUSH the ball.  Although as he began High School, baseball had to go in lieu of hockey, which is something he says he never regretted, and never will.

Movies like The Sandlot, Goonies, and of course, Mighty Ducks 1, 2, and 3 would keep Frank occupied during the long 8-10 hour car rides traveling for hockey.  According to his dad, Frank has a near photographic memory, and can remember the best lines from all the movies on the road trips.  A huge challenge during his early years playing hockey was actually proving himself on the ice.  The team he played for brought in four or five new players each year that were going to be the top guys, which meant Frank was pushed to the 3rd or 4th line.  Near the end of each season, he had worked hard enough to be in the top six forwards on the team… just in time to have it all repeat the following year.  Being no stranger to hard work, none of that is what Frank recalls as his most difficult obstacle.  “The passing of my Papa Tony when I was about 8 years old was probably the toughest thing I’ve had to overcome.  He, my grandma and my aunt would always come to my hockey and baseball games and they were always there for me.  I was very close with my Papa Tony, and when he passed away it was really hard for me.  However I know he’s watching me, and hopefully he is enjoying watching me become a better person.

Frank batted left, and threw right in baseball.

Frank batted left, and threw right in baseball.  (Image courtesy of the DiChiara family)

When Frank was around 14, he needed to start working in the weight room and working on his foot-speed.  Ernie recalls, “I would ask him every summer if he wanted to leave and go somewhere else, and he always said no.  That first summer in the gym I really saw his drive to succeed and that’s when I knew in my heart he would be something special.  He was always willing to do the extra things.”  He continued by saying “Every other night he would hit 100 pucks off the blacktop driveway at his net, building his arms … and destroying my stockade fence that was behind it.”  One night Frank came inside and asked his dad to tape two pucks to the bottom of the stick shaft.  Seeing the puzzled look on his father’s face, Frank pleaded “DAD that’s what Gretzky’s father did… and then you stick handle in the driveway and you get hands like the Great One!”  Ernie remembered that fondly by saying “My God he loves this game.

Frank finishing a pass.

Frank finishing a pass.

The 2012-2013 hockey season found Frank DiChiara in Dubuque, Iowa, playing for the Fighting Saints in the USHL (United States Hockey League – The top-tier Junior league in the US)… and it was the greatest year of his life.  “From day one back in August we had already gelled and became a tight-knit group.  I have been a part of plenty of other teams, but none compare to this one, and these guys; being with the boys every single day was a blessing.  We all pushed each other on the ice and off, and that’s why we we’re such a great team … we were taught to hold each other accountable for our actions; we did, and it worked.”  He continued, “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to go into battle with, day in and day out, and I am so thankful for everything the Fighting Saints Staff and the people of Dubuque have done for me.  Giving me the opportunity to excel this year and really develop not only as a hockey player but as a young man will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Frank back-checking.

Frank back-checking.

In a regular season that ended with The Fighting Saints setting team and league records for points and wins in a season, Frank had 30 goals and 30 assists, along with 12 more points in 11 playoff games.  None of those games were more significant than the night of May 17th, 2013, in overtime of Game 3 of the Clark Cup Finals (best-of-five).  Taken directly from the script that every child writes for themselves … the biggest moment of their life, standing up to the challenge, and becoming a Champion.  Up two games to none, at 11:33 in overtime, the 6’1″, 220lb #10 Frank DiChiara took the puck from center ice and moved into the offensive zone.  He dropped a pass back to Captain Shane Sooth, who then shuffled the puck back up to DiChiara at the middle of the left circle.  Frank then drove to the front of the net, cut across the crease, and put a backhand shot past the Fargo goaltender for the win… and the Clark Cup.  His father Ernie remembers, “I must have watched that highlight a hundred times, but I knew it was him the second it happened the first time.  I felt numb, but then realized that I was yelling at the the TV!  We told you ‘Just believe’, and Frankie-boy… oh my God you did it!”

Frank recalls the play;  “I took the puck to the net off of a great pass from Sooth and when I saw the red light go on and the puck hit the back of the net I thought ‘wow, we did it!’  … the rest was a blur.  The next thing I remember was my team mates jumping on top of me and then getting up from the bottom of the pile with a bloody nose from everyone.  It was an unbelievable feeling, and one that I will never forget for the rest of my life.  Scoring that goal was surreal.

Teammate AJ Fossen says Frank has a great personality, is always willing to lend a helping hand, and brings a great energy to both the locker room, and the bench.  AJ also says, “As far as a being a hockey player goes, he can do it all; he’s got a Pro shot, he’s strong on his skates, and has great hands.

Frank taking the ice against the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

DiChiara taking the ice against the Muskegon Lumberjacks, in the Clark Cup Playoffs… as a fan looks up in awe.

Frank is an unreal teammate… always making everyone laugh, and always has energy – like the Energizer Bunny!  If someone is down, he’s right there trying to help out in any way he can.  He looks at the positives and the bright sides of everything.  Every team needs a guy like Frank.”  Teammate Jarrid Privitera continues, “On the ice, his work ethic stands out, and how he protects the puck down low and drives to the front of the net.

From a scouting standpoint, Joe Kolodziej from The Junior Hockey News speaks highly of Frank’s on-ice abilities:  “He exhibits an old-school player’s mindset – hard wok always pays off, and if you compete harder than everyone else you will win more games.  He reminds me of Johan Franzen (of the Detroit Red Wings).  A big, strong player who is physically dominating when he needs to be, yet he has the skill of a goal scorer.  A player who competes hard at both ends of the ice.  He’s got a ‘no-quit’ attitude, he’s coachable, well spoken, and a natural born leader.  His Clark Cup winning goal is a perfect example of his vision, physical ability and scoring touch.  Frank DiChiara is a player that all young players should emulate on the ice.”  Joe continued, “And off the ice… an incredible person.

Walking to the locker-room after another win.

Walking to the locker-room after another win.

Committed to Yale University, Frank dreams of playing in NHL… and with the 2013 NHL Draft next month at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, that dream is likely to come true.  However, he said “If that doesn’t work out, I hope to have a successful job one day and be able to support my future wife, kids and family so that they can be happy.

It’s no secret that Frank DiChiara is a great hockey player.  He has the drive, skills, and championships to prove it.  At the end of the day though, he’s a great human being… and that’s what matters most.

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

I’ve been researching a lot of things lately.  Certain photography styles, NHL Playoffs, minor league hockey leagues and teams, Junior hockey leagues and teams, business ideas, selling ideas, etc.  I found something very interesting, and it’s regarding why professional photographers cannot work for free.

Cash

Everyone needs it.

Rather than just paste it all in here, please visit the link I found:  http://photoprofessionals.wordpress.com/

The article itself is great; but the comments are great too, so I urge you to take a look at those as well.

The Junior Hockey News Pre-Draft Showcase

Jesse Fracassi, Eric Plotz (6) and The American flag.

Jesse Fracassi, Eric Plotz (6) and The American flag.

Taping a hockey stick.

Taping a hockey stick.

Walking inside the American Heartland Arena, just outside of Chicago, I was greeted with two very familiar hits to my senses;  a cold nose (because that’s what happens when I’m in a rink) … and the smell of hockey.  If you’ve been around hockey for any length of time, you know the smell I’m talking about.  It’s not necessarily a bad smell, but it does take some getting used to.  By now, for me, that smell tells my brain that I am exactly where I want to be.

Chicago Junior Bulldogs GM Ken Kestas taking notes.

Chicago Junior Bulldogs GM Ken Kestas taking notes.

Samuel Wilbur

Samuel Wilbur

I was asked to cover The Junior Hockey News Pre-Draft Showcase this past weekend (May 3-5).  According to  TJHN webiste, this showcase gives players “the opportunity to play high caliber hockey in front of scouts from various leagues such as the following:  NCAA, ACHA, USHL, NAHL, EJHL, MJHL, WSHL, NORPAC, AWHL. and many more.”  The camp/showcase was Fri, Sat, and Sunday, but I could only make the last day… which consisted entirely of games.  There were six teams, each with 17 players.

Drawing a play on the glass.

Drawing a play on the glass.

Ken Kestas (left) and Zay Crawford.

Ken Kestas (left) and Zay Crawford.

One coach said, “Every kid on this first line is fantastic.”  (that line had produced the first three goals in their game).  He went on to say that the level of play at this event was better than the last four similar events he has attended.  That’s pretty much the idea with camps like these… the talent is getting better and better, and these players need an outlet to be seen by people who make the decisions, at both the Junior and Collegiate levels.  This showcase allowed players that exact opportunity.

Jake Hebeisen (right); Assistant Coach of the Dells Ducks).

Jake Hebeisen (right); Assistant Coach of the Dells Ducks).

Brad Nolan (6) talking with a buddy.

Brad Nolan (6) talking with a buddy.

Jake Hebeisen (Assistant Coach of the Dells Ducks, of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League) echoed the same thing.  “It’s long days, and weekends, at camps like these, but the players seem to be better at each event.”  Those are encouraging words, for both this showcase itself, and for Junior hockey in the United States.  I spoke a little with one of the players… Isaiah Crawford, of Novi, Michigan, and he said the play this weekend was of a fast pace, and a lot of good puck movement.

Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller

Goalie equipment (belonging to Nathan Mortland)

Goalie equipment (belonging to Nathan Mortland)

Photographing and writing notes from around 9am until Noon, and then 2pm until 4 produces an aching back, tired feet, lots of hockey and lots of photos.  There was also lots of hearing players chirping at each other; in fact, I recall seeing one fight, and a couple others started and but they never really went anywhere.  I photographed from the stands, behind the nets, the benches, and up on top of a stairwell that still had a pretty good view of the ice.  Again, whenever possible, don’t photograph through the plexi-glass.  My favorite spot to shoot from is always the player benches.  Always.

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Johnny Schwarz

Johnny Schwarz

There were a few things I heard the players saying to each other that I thought were pretty funny.  Most notably from Jake Gevaart, who said, “Oh man, right idea; wrong technique!” when an opponent tried a fancy dangle at the other end of the ice and completely biffed.  I suppose it was the way he delivered the line that contained the comedy; I guess it was one of those “you had to be there” type of things.  The last games of the day were more or less “All-Star” games that comprised the best guys from the weekend, according to the coaches.  Being that every player had their one jersey for the camp, the All-Star games consisted of players of (for example) blue, black, and red jerseys against a team with white and green jerseys.  Thomas Leistner said “Man I’ve already got a headache from all these colors out there”.

Joey Keenan taping up.

Joey Keenan taping up.

Alex Reichle juggling before his All-Star game.

Alex Reichle juggling before his All-Star game.

It was nice to meet and speak with a number of the players, and some parents as well.  Talked cameras  and lenses with a goalie, and talked about the images I produce with other players, etc.  It was a great time, and I really hope I’m able to do it again.

Lindsey Sciacca

Lindsey Sciacca

Joe Kolodziej (far left) addressing some players.

Joe Kolodziej (far left) addressing some players.

If you are a player, or parent of a player, that was at this showcase and you’re curious if I have images of you/your kid, just use the contact form on my website, http://www.aepoc.com to contact me.  Be sure to include the color of the team and jersey number.

Austin Ziakas

Austin Ziakas

Some players leaving early.

Some players leaving early.

The entrance to the battlefield.

The entrance to the battlefield.

Grand Rapids Griffins

Another hockey game in another city!  In case you missed the previous posts in my hockey tour this season, you can find them here by team (Milwaukee AdmiralsGreenville Road WarriorsCincinnati CyclonesDubuque Fighting Saints).

A packed Van Andel Arena

A packed Van Andel Arena

Petr Mrazek during the first period.

Petr Mrazek during the first period.

I had contacted the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) after shooting for the Milwaukee Admirals back in January.  I had some images of their team, and I figured they might be interested in seeing them.  They were, they posted them with links back to me, and we scheduled a time for me to go shoot for them.  I’d never been to Michigan before (odd, I know).  So on April 13th, the 317 mile/5-hour trek was made to Grand Rapids, MI!

Landon Ferraro's helmet.

Landon Ferraro’s helmet.

Petr Mrazek taking the ice

Petr Mrazek taking the ice

Whoa whoa, back up – let me say something first.  About a week before the game, my contact at the Griffins, John Vanderhaagen, had sent me an envelope in the mail.  It consisted of his business card, a parking pass for a lot right by the arena, a map TO the arena, with a sticky note and arrows to exactly where the lot is, the two media passes I had requested, and a $25 gift card to Big O’s Cafe, just a couple blocks away from Van Andel Arena, where the Griffs play.  This was a first-class move, and something I was totally not expecting.  I haven’t received service this kind at all during any hockey game I’ve photographed, much less a week BEFORE shooting, and from someone I hadn’t even met yet.  This generosity still astounds me… and readers take note:  THAT is how you get people’s attention – THAT is how you treat others.

Media passes

Media passes

Upon getting to the arena, we had a bit of a “personal photography project” of mine to photograph first, which the Griffins were more than happy to help out with.  I wish I could go into details here about it, but I can’t.  All in due time though, I promise, don’t worry!  But rest assured knowing that the project does involve hockey, and requires different teams and players to assist with it (and lots of traveling on my part).  So anyway, we got that project shot, which only took an hour or so and then went to eat at Big O’s, where I got a Italian sausage, pepperoni, and ham calzone that was bigger than my face.

A couple players having a chat before the game.

A couple players having a chat before the game.

Tomas Tatar (left) and Petr Mrazek before the game.

Tomas Tatar (left) and Petr Mrazek before the game.

After the great food, it was back to the arena to start shooting.  We walked around the place, with the stands empty, and the crew working on the ice… taking a few pictures with a new wide-angle lens I bought (Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5).  I was able to photograph from the bench while the players warmed up, and I wanted to make sure that I got to the bench plenty early.  Here’s a tip for anyone going on similar hockey photography trips (or just similar photography trips)… TALK TO PEOPLE.  I know it’s hard to just  randomly start talking to strangers, and it’s tough for me too sometimes, but it will make everything better.  There was security personnel on the bench just making sure no one that wasn’t supposed to be there was up to anything.  I started talking to him, asking questions about the arena, capacity, what sorts of crowds they normally draw, what’s expected for tonight, normal game operations, etc… and he was very friendly.  It let him know that I was legit, and it made the time go by faster (for both of us); a win-win!  When you’re talking to strangers in places you haven’t been, the best advice I can give you is three words:  Act as if.  Act as if you’ve been there before.  Act as if you know your way around.  If it’s your first hockey game, don’t let it show, act as if you’ve been shooting for years and this is just another game.  Act as if you belong there.  You may think “dude, that would never work”… but in the ‘heat of the moment’, so to speak, your brain believes it.  Try it.

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Petr Mrazek

Petr Mrazek

After warmups, and for the first period, I wanted to shoot behind the net the Griffins were defending so I could get some shots of their starting goalie Petr Mrazek (a 20-year old Czech Republic native who was called up to the Detroit Red Wings on Feb 8th, 2013 for his first NHL start – which he won, btw, giving up only one goal to the St Louis Blues).  Got quite a few great shots during the first, even though I was limited to really only two panes of glass, and yes, shooting through glass is not ideal… but you can still get good images.  Anyhow, the second period started, and I had already decided to stay in the same spot because I wanted images of the Peoria Rivermen’s goalie Mike McKenna as well.  I tend to shoot goalies, but I don’t limit my self to them.

Tomas Tatar protecting the puck and gliding around the net.

Tomas Tatar protecting the puck and gliding around the net.

Mrazek making a great save.

Mrazek making a great save.

Peoria Rivermen goalie Mike McKenna.

Peoria Rivermen goalie Mike McKenna.

Second period is done… and finally the crown jewel – the main reason I wanted to come shoot for the Griffins (beyond the experience itself)… photographing from between the benches during play, with no glass in front of me.  As I said earlier, you can still get great images from shooting behind the plexi glass… but it’s a hell of a lot easier to do so when there’s nothing between you and the players.  However, that’s also the downside… there’s nothing between you and the players!  Which means there’s nothing between you and the PUCK.  You have to keep your head on a swivel, as they say, and it helps to keep both eyes open when photographing.  It takes a while to learn how to do that, but it’s extremely handy sometimes.  So anyway, yeah, there I am between the benches, and man, these guys can skate!!  During stoppages I would lean out over the boards with my wide-angle lens and get shots of the benches; got a few during play as well.  A few nice, tight shots of player faces, and we called it a night.

The Griffins bench from between the benches.

The Griffins bench from between the benches.

Landon Ferraro smiling after his goal.

Landon Ferraro smiling after his goal.

Wide angle shots; objects are a lot closer than you think!

Wide angle shots; objects are a lot closer than you think!

The Griffins ended up losing in overtime 4-3 on an odd bounce, but sometimes that’s what happens.  The experience was great, and I just love going to different arenas and shooting teams I may not be unfamiliar with.  I would like to thank the Griffins’ generosity and hospitality making us feel extremely welcome in their facility, and everything went off without a hitch.  I hope to photograph for them again next season!

The Rivermen bench from between the benches.

The Rivermen bench from between the benches.

Griffs bench during a timeout.

Griffs bench during a timeout.

Tomas Tatar bolting into the offensive zone.

Tomas Tatar bolting into the offensive zone.