About a month ago, I saw a photo essay in the Duluth News Tribune by Bob King. This particular photo caught a number of students' reactions to a scoring chance for UMD. King took it from a new addition to Amsoil Arena called the suicide box. The poorly-named 'suicide box' sits right at center ice, in between the home and away benches, and is for photographers and TV cameras.
After reading King's little blurb I immediately thought about how cool would it be to sit right on the red line, ice-level, and try to snap some photos. After some pressbox inquiries and a visit to the Multimedia Hub, I was all set. During the second and third period of Saturday's game I put my amateur photography skills to the test in the suicide box.
Virtually every time someone talks about an encounter with a group of professional (or college) athletes, they say the same thing: You would not believe how big these guys were! It's the de facto cliché to describe an encounter with athletes because it's true. They were big, especially on skates. But more than that, they were fast. I watched Brady Lamb hustle through the neutral zone five feet away from me, and the thing that really struck me was the power behind his first few strides. The crunching noise of his blades digging into the ice as he accelerated past me had an almost bassy sound.
Being in between the two benches made me hyper aware of every line change. There was a big whoosh of air – similar to the one you feel when a semi passes you on a two-lane highway – every time a line came flying in for a change.
My favorite thing about the suicide box was hearing all of the player's banter. A lot of it was run-of-the-mill chatter, similar to what you'd find at one of our intramural softball games: “Good shift here boys, let's get after it now,” “Atta boy Kenny, great save kid!”
Occasionally I'd catch snippets of trash talk, like when Dan DeLisle called Marvin a pussy-ass, which made me like DeLisle a little more. Marvin let out a huge Woooooo! followed by “It's not over yet boys!” as he skated by the benches after his line tied it 2-2. Aaron Marvin is a douchebag.
The banter with the refs was really interesting. On one occasion there was a questionable no-call for icing on a Husky clearing attempt. Faulk went right up to the ref and said “How the fuck is that not icing!” and the ref replied “Ah C'mon now, that hit his blade.” Players and coaches bitch incessantly at the refs and the refs take it all with aplomb and give it right back. WCHA officiating is constantly being criticized, and often for good reason, but as a fan I forget that these guys love hockey just as much as everyone else.
I needed a bigger lens. Although I checked out a legit, expensive-looking camera, my lens was way too short. Any time action went down past the circles my zoom wasn't enough. Later I compared my camera to those of the professional photographers in the press box and realized their lenses were double or triple the size of mine.
Sports photography is hard. In photography there's a lot of things to keep in mind – framing, background, context, lighting, etc – when the subject is still. But with ten players and three refs zooming around on ice, it takes great anticipation and a little luck to capture a good shot. You have to think a step ahead, and always have the camera ready, because in sports you never know what will happen next.
Some photos from places other than the suicide box:
This is what a professional photographer got from the suicide box later that night. Yeah, so I might have a ways to go in my photography career.