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.

IMG_1884

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.

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