My Ice Hockey Experience

I was recently given the opportunity to photograph the English Ice Hockey Championships in Sheffield. When I got the call I was immediately excited because I’ve never had the chance to photograph Ice Hockey before despite it being on my bucket list for some time, I agreed to work a full day on Sunday and again on the Monday. This meant leaving Oswestry at 5am on Sunday morning to give myself plenty of time to get to the arena and prepare for the first game at 8am. Who doesn’t love a 5am start right?

Like I say, I’d never photographed Ice Hockey before, the day of the shoot was fast approaching and my normal anxieties I have before every shoot, started to set in. Will my work be good enough? What settings will I use? Do I have enough batteries or memory cards? What happens if they don’t like my images? etc. etc. I did look into different ways to photograph Ice Hockey, but I was still unsure. I’d never even watched Ice Hockey, now, all of a sudden I was getting paid to photograph it? I looked at my local team’s fixtures and training schedules but there was nothing, zilch, nada! I had to go in blind!

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The day before the shoot I prepped my equipment and ready to go and set my alarm for 4:45am (ych a fi). I tried to get an early night as I had a very long day ahead of me. Unfortunately, because I was so anxious about the shoot I couldn’t sleep, because I couldn’t sleep that made me more anxious. After a few short hours of restless sleep, I was woken by the horrid sound of my alarm. I slowly got myself out of bed and got myself ready in a zombie-like fashion.

Fast forward to 7:15am and I had arrived at IceSheffield, my home for the day. As I entered the arena I was immediately greeted by several Welsh flags, the Cardiff Devils u11s were in town and boy, did we know about it. With their impressive display of flags, banners and balloons, they made their presence known, regardless of the fact they weren’t playing until later that day. For those of you who know me on a personal level, you will know I’m a proud Welshman. Seeing the Welsh Dragon proudly on display over 100 miles from home cheered me up briefly.

20 minutes prior to the first game I met Martyn, a photographer with 20+ years of experience and a genuinely down to earth bloke who has given me a lot of work over the last 9 months. He talked me through the day, guided me through my settings and showed me to where I would be situated. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Every sports job I have ever done I’d been able to sit on my trusty stool with my monopod in hand. Positioning myself this way helped to take the weight of my camera and lens so my wrists and back didn’t suffer. However, it was clear today this wasn’t going to be the case, I would be standing up for the next 13.5 hours, holding a very heavy camera and lens. If the day wasn’t daunting enough? With my normal worries shooting for a new company, I was tired from the lack of sleep and knowing how physically demanding the day would be I was already looking forward to the end of the day.

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The first game was to be Sheffield v Swindon U13s in the National Semi-final. The game began at an electric pace as did the inevitable clicking of my camera, I was surprised with how well I was keeping up with play and got more confident as the game went on. Martyn came down to see me mid-way through the game to check how I was getting on. I nervously showed him the last few images I had taken on the back of my camera and he was amazed at how tightly I was framing the players, he walked away pleased with my work. ‘Thank fuck for that’. After that I began to shoot with more confidence, I was getting more creative with my angles by moving around the arena. I wanted to capture both the action and the emotion that comes with the sport by photographing the spectators. However, these weren’t just your average supporters, these were proud parents, who had turned up in their numbers to encourage their children in what I can only presume were the biggest games of their lives, so far. I began to think how many hours these players have had to train, how far they’ve had to travel for games and now they’re just one game away from the final. I suddenly felt humbled that I had the honour of capturing such an important moment of these youngsters lives.

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By 2pm I had been working for 6 hours and I’d only photographed 4 games. I still had 5 games remaining, my back was in absolute agony, my wrists were killing me and I wasn’t even past the halfway point. The Cardiff Devils then entered the ice and were greeted to a loud roar from the traveling Welsh fans who had turned up in great numbers. The Devils took the lead early on and the atmosphere was incredible, it was short lived though as they conceded a goal just a few minutes later and ended up losing the game 3-1. The Welsh flags were swiftly taken down ready for the long journey home, ‘lucky them’ I thought, I still had another 7 hours to go.

Day 2, I woke up after a great night’s sleep ready to go again, with a lot more confidence in my ability and excited to capture another full day of action. Today was different though, today was finals day! I arrived at the arena and was eager to get started despite being very stiff and sore from the previous day, but I was still in good spirits, as the buzz of the finals echoed around the arena. Proud but nervous family members watched as the action unfolded, celebrations filled the arena as players lifted their trophies. However, for some, that wasn’t meant to be and their loss was gut-wrenching, but isn’t this why we love sport?

The highs put you in a complete state of euphoria, for those who have not yet experienced it, it’s indescribable. But those who have felt it, even just once, you will know exactly what I mean. The lows, however, have the ability to scar you for life. It could be a missed penalty or one tiny error that cost the game, but these are the moments that define players and teach them the importance of togetherness and bouncebackability. This is why I love photographing sport, this is why I don’t care about the 5am starts and this is why I’m so driven to make photography my full-time job.

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