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What's it like to photograph an NHL game?

Boston Bruins Tim Thomas dives, but misses a puck for Vancouver's only goal during the third period of the NHL Final Game Three between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins in Boston on June 6, 2011. The Bruins won 8-1.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A big hit. A well-timed goal. The nerve-wracking build-up and emotional aftermath of a historic Game 7.

Hockey is full of drama – and packed with opportunities for compelling photography.

But capturing these images once the puck is dropped is only a small part what it takes to cover the National Hockey League. Getting to the arena, establishing a shooting position and ensuring the ability to file on tight deadlines demands a great deal of planning and know-how from photographers leading up to any game.

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Over the last couple of weeks, Globe colleague John Lehmann and I were assigned to split the coverage of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canuck and the Boston Bruins. Lehmann was responsible for all of the games in Vancouver, and I was assigned to travel to Boston to provide photographs during and around games three, four and six.

The mounds of equipment carried, flown, dragged and transported in taxis, through airports and around arenas is staggering. But rarely does a piece of equipment make the trip without good reason. Despite having covered four Olympic Games, and many professional sporting events during the past twenty-plus years of my career, packing for each event never gets any easier. Most photographers I know have rooms piled high with various suitcases, duffle bags, hard cases and backpacks that are appropriate to various travel scenarios and assignment types. Distilling gear to the necessary items, packing it efficiently for travel and meeting airline restrictions is always a challenge. Rarely do I travel without incurring fees for extra or overweight baggage.

With all the wires, batteries, and electronics in my luggage it surprised me that my laptop, with two SD card readers taped to the outside of it, garnered the most interest from airport security. I'm used to having all of my gear "sniffed" for explosives, and given an extra once-over, but I've never seen a card reader given such scrutiny before.

The arrangements at the Boston Gardens were far from ideal for most of the photographers during the series. Shooting positions as well as spots available for remote cameras were not posted until the morning of each game in Boston. To accommodate the increased number of photographers in attendance for each game, a number of spectator seats were reserved for photographers. I was placed in one of these seats – Loge 12 Row 18 Seat 18. Often begging, cajoling, bribery, and some selective trading with other photographers can be used to better one's situation, but in Beantown I found it impossible to make any improvements beyond my assigned seat.

My preference is to shoot hockey from ice level, where the images tend to be stronger, but when working alone this can be too risky in a deciding game. I requested a "safe" position that would provide an unobstructed view of most of the ice at all times.

One other photographer was seated next to me, a shooter for UPI who worked well with me in tight quarters while we both juggled two cameras – one with a 300mm f2.8, another with a 70~200mm f2.8 zoom, and sometimes one extra with the large 400mm f2.8. Add to this our laptops, so we could ingest our images and speed up the editing process, and you get a very congested workspace that requires co-operation and patience from both of us. Our field of view covered most of the ice, although the play nearest us was obstructed by Plexiglass.

The problem was that our line of sight to the ice was nearly completely blocked each and every time the fans rose to their feet. And believe me: in Boston, the fans did not often sit in their seats. My tolerant colleague and I rose with the fans in an attempt to capture the moment. But Bruins fans are animated, rowdy, loud and extremely energetic. They made working from that position very difficult, but I couldn't help but admire them and the impact they have on the Bruins in that arena.

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Due to the restrictions in the Boston Garden, remote positions were few and far between. Remote cameras, triggered by radio signals, are generally clamped, and secured to railings and catwalks at most major sporting events. Approval for each remote is controlled by NHL Images, and the building staff, but seemed harder than usual in Boston. By Game Six I was finally able to find a suitable location for a single remote and secure permission to set it up on a rail beside a fan seat at one end of the rink. The position afforded a look down the length of the ice, through a 400mm f2.8 lens, toward the net where Luongo would be during the first and third periods.

The issue with remotes is that even after considering all of the possibilities you may still get little of use from them. The placement of a remote in any given situation is a matter of weighing the odds, and considering what will make a good, or sometimes different image that would not otherwise be possible.

They provide an extra angle but in my case I was just trying to ensure I had a clean view of at least one net throughout the game. If Vancouver had finished the series that night, in regulation, that angle may have provided some of the celebration at Vancouver's net, either Luongo, or the team. There is a lot of playing the odds and trying to make an educated guess as to what might occur. Obviously this game ended with Boston winning and sending the series back to Vancouver for Game Seven. But I did get many images from the remote that I was either blocked on from my seat, or just gave a better angle on the play. It was worth taking the time and effort to drag the added equipment to Vancouver, scout a location, set it up hours in advance, and make the extra run between periods to retrieve the memory card from the camera.

The final thing I had to consider in Boston was the possibility that Vancouver might have won the Stanley Cup in game six. This meant that the only images of any importance would have been from the end of the game and the post-game reactions. This means working right up to – and possibly beyond – our deadline times. Especially when working alone, deadlines are the determining factor when deciding how long to continue making images. With the games generally ending at 11 P.M., there was very little time to make images beyond this. An overtime finish, while spectacular to watch, and exciting to photograph, is a killer for news organizations trying to get the latest and most relevant images published. Goaltenders change ends, and established plans go out the window.

Professionally, it was somewhat of a relief that the Bruins forced a Game Seven. Only a certain amount of photographers are allowed onto the ice at the end of the game, and fewer still are allowed into the winning team's dressing room. I wasn't optimistic about getting onto the ice with the select group, nor did I expect to be granted access to the winning team's dressing room. Somewhat surprisingly I got both, but neither was needed that evening.

It would have been a scramble anyway to shoot the game end, and then try to get onto the ice. While the option was open to me, I was determined to shoot the end of game and all of the post-game activities from my seat, or from a high vantage point nearby. Making the best of any situation is about making choices, given what you know about the game, and how the situation might evolve. Without the luxury of time, or someone else to edit for me staying in the high position was the only logical way to get some quick images of the winners with the cup and still be able to file in time. If we wanted other images from the ice they would have had to come from someone else. On the bright side, it was pretty much guaranteed that if Vancouver had won the game, the Bruins fans in front of me would have disappeared, or at least would have been much less of a jubilant obstruction to my photography.

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During Game Six, a fan in the box behind us asked if we were able to enjoy the game. The simple answer is that we don't – at least not like a fan does. I'm a hockey fan myself and I thoroughly enjoy sports photography. As photographers, we're constantly looking at the game, analyzing it, trying to anticipate, but we are not watching the game. We're looking at portions of the game through a lens and it's not wise to appreciate the action while it is ongoing. Even between plays, we're looking at the crowd, the player's benches -- anywhere there might be an interesting or telling image.

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About the Author

Working for twenty-plus years as a photojournalist has allowed me to see and experience much of this country and the world.But photojournalism can, and should be done anywhere and everywhere. More

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