As December was winding down last month and I decided what I wanted to achieve to make 2015 the best possible year I could make it, there's always been a constant need to improve myself with my skills and photography is the one I've focused on the most. However, I've fallen off the tracks with where I thought I'd be but now that I work for an amazing organization with Minnesota United FC as essentially their photo department, I feel revitalized and refreshed. As most people were making their New Year's resolutions to be "eating healthier, working out more, blah blah blah" I decided to really work on my photography and to view the world just a little differently. The reason I like a new year is because it means I have a clean slate and can start fresh, so I decided to take advantage of what Minnesota has to offer with my pursuit of sports photography. Enter the US Pond Hockey Championships. Now in its 10th year, the USPHC is what I consider a "must see" event if you're a hockey fan, casual or hardcore, and is an absolute must for me to photograph. People of all ages from across the US travel to Minneapolis, MN to soak in a weekend dedicated to the sport we love on a place that's sacred: a frozen lake.
Oddly enough, this Winter in the Land of 10,000 Lakes has been very mild here in the Twin Cities area so we got a slightly late start on outdoor hockey but the USPHC was able to go off without a hitch. Taking place over the course of three days, the tournament at its core brings hockey back to its roots and reminds us all where this game started and why we love playing outside. The rules are simple: 4v4, no offsides, no icing, no slapshots, no goaltending. The "nets" aren't really nets, just a simple contraption that can easily be built with a few 2x4s and some plywood. One of the coolest things I like about this event is that you get tons of spectators that are just coming to watch and didn't sign up to play. That's what I find the most fascinating about Minnesota and its love affair with hockey, it's 30*F out and we're all standing and walking around on a frozen lake like a bunch of dummies just to watch people play the game. I absolutely love this state.
From a photography perspective, Friday was terrible to shoot and is the reason why I had the least amount of material from all the stuff I kept. I normally like light clouds on a sunny day because it's nature's softbox but we ended up with heavy cloud cover on the first day which made all of my photos look muddy and flat overall. Since photography is so dependent on light and the subject, I was constantly making adjustments because a bright or dark jersey would throw off my exposures. Saturday was a lot of the same although the sun decided to come out and play a little bit before getting choked out by the clouds again. Couldn't ask for better shooting conditions on Sunday, the sun was out and the wind was minimal. A picturesque day for what the tournament calls "Championship Sunday."
Anyway, enough of the technical stuff, because I know (or at least hope) people are here to see my photos. Remember to give me a follow on Instagram as I'll post random photos here and there that I've taken. And because you're just dying to have a super cool new social media account to follow.
I think to make the event more fun the USPHC should introduce a "Best Dressed" award or something of the like, because the photo of the guy with that beautiful flow was on a team called "Moves Like Jagr" and they all had wigs to match Jagr's legendary mullet. I thought it was creative and awesome. I guess you'd run the risk of the event becoming too cartoonish but at the same time, this event is all about having fun and not taking itself too seriously. The teams that have a legitimate shot at winning their division wouldn't even bother anyway and if they did, it'd be amazing if they won wearing Cooperalls or something else that's ridiculous. I could see that being a great way for the fans to interact with their social media efforts by having them vote on who they think should win. Just an idea I have floating in my head! Back to photos.
One thing I was so happy to see again was the sled hockey game. For those that are out of the loop, sled (or sledge) hockey is a form of the sport that allows physically disabled people to play the game. I overheard a referee telling two random teams on Friday "Guys, we're here to play hockey because it's fun, we love it, and we get to be kids again playing outside." I'll be honest and say that I was getting choked up (actually, I just had something in my eye) a little watching the kids play and hearing all the parents cheering for everyone on the ice. It's too often in sports that parents will ruin it for the kids by being overly competitive for them. I don't want to take away anything from these kids either, their willingness and drive to compete is just as high as anyone else at this tournament. When you boil this whole event down and take away everything that makes it flashy, what that referee said is true. I know the reason I play hockey is because I love it, I really do. It's the only reason why I step on the ice and I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone that plays that says they don't love it. I consider the sled hockey game to be the main event of the whole weekend.
Sunday I focused on covering the women's games, as Sunday was the only day of play for them. I know this isn't exclusive to hockey, but women don't get taken as seriously as athletes or as fans and that's a shame. Sports tend to be a male dominated thing, but that doesn't mean that women are lesser as fans or competitors. It's very dangerous thinking but it's still very prevalent.
Women's sports often get a bad rap because people think they will be bored, but as a friend and I discussed it between games we realized that if people could get past that perception, the CWHL (Canadian Women's Hockey League) would have television rights; it's incredibly entertaining. If you've never watched a game of women's hockey, I highly encourage it. There's no checking but if you're watching hockey solely for the physicality then I'd suggest learning about other aspects that make hockey great. For me, what I like most is they're some of the best puck handlers I've ever seen and the hockey sense is incredible. It's easy to tell just how smart they are by the plays they're able to create on the ice. It's a ton of fun. My goal this weekend was to show these women for what they are: incredible athletes and fans that love the game.
After the women's championship game ended (congratulations to Consistently Cuatro) I moved my way over to the Open division championship game. This particular game was interesting for two reasons: The biggest name at this tournament got knocked out early on Sunday and it was a bunch of guys that played D2-D3 college hockey vs. a team of recruited D1 players. As it should be, the team of D2-D3 players won, not because they were the underdog, but because it was a team that was a group of friends. I imagine as a player at this event, win or lose, the thing you'll remember most is the good times you had with your friends.
P.S. - Sun absolutely sucked at the time of the championship game.
That's it for me this time around. Busy again this upcoming weekend as there's another pond hockey tournament happening on Lake Minnetonka, although it's a smaller scale compared to the USPHC. I'll have a blog post up along with photos when I'm done with them. Remember to follow me on Instagram and if you're feeling saucy, give my Facebook page a like too. I really appreciate it! A general gallery of the event can be found on my Flickr site. Hate my watermark? Shoot me an email at david[at]davidaberdingphoto.com to purchase, they're watermark free! Until next time, internet.