There is not a hockey stick that’s been made that can make a beer league player shoot a 100 mph slap shot. There isn’t a pair of skates that could turn a man on the street into a terror racing down the ice nor has no company made a pair of gloves that will give the wearer abilities to stick handle in a broom closet.
As the Calder Cup Playoffs get underway, the fans of the AHL will see players who have spent most of their lives inside rinks, practicing and honing their skills. They will be gifted to see players who are using the final games of this season as a chance at the NHL for next season.
While these players can take a $15 stick from the local all-things-sports shop and snap goals off in their sleep, it is only when the talent and the technology fuse together that we get to see the beauty of the great sport of hockey.
The same state exists for capturing hockey.
A professional high-end camera in the hands of an amateur will make for crisp photos of the ice that was just vacated by a forward or perhaps a brilliant shot of a defenseman after he just laid out an approaching sniper.
Monte Fresco could probably still get some brilliant shots with an Instamatic, it is only when the artist and the tools are of the finest caliber can the finished product be relied upon—game in and game out.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are convinced of this and it shows on their website, in their yearbooks and throughout the hallways of the Arena at Harbor Yard—thanks to veteran photographer, Rich Stieglitz.
Before the era where everyone with a phone or $100 to burn became a photographer, Rich started shooting in high school, only to find it a boon to his college newspaper and yearbook just a few years later.
“My educational background was in sports medicine, so when I was traveling with the team as an athletic trainer, I was taking pictures of sports. The school newspaper and the school yearbook saw some of my work and they said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you film. You’re traveling to all of the games anyway, you’re there – would you mind taking some pictures for us?’”
While the Tigers haven’t tapped his own medical expertise, his work behind the camera has sometimes benefited the medical staff.
“Not that I shoot with the intent to capture guys getting hurt, but there are images that I’ll go back when a guy gets hurt, and you can actually see what we call a ‘mechanism of injury’, how somebody got hurt, and if you time it right, you can see their knee go or see something, a fracture, matter of fact, there’s a fight picture up on our website right now of one of our guys where you can see he’s hitting a guy, and you can see the bone in his hand at an angle as he hit him, breaking his hand. Sure enough, I didn’t see it at the time, when we found out he broke his hand, we went back and I looked at the pictures, and clear as day you can see it.”
As Bridgeport enters their match-up against the Wilkes-Barre Penguins, the team hopes his photography will be used more to highlight the team’s triumphs rather than tragedies and while the Kyle Okposo and Jack Hillen are returning to the Nassau Coliseum after stints with the Islanders, they won’t be the only ones with experience at the NHL level.
During training camp and for games, Rich has worked with the New York Islanders organization and even on the other side of the glass, has come away with the same impression most players have:
“Its just like what the players say—the NHL is just a faster game…the puck moves faster, the passing is faster, the game is essentially the same, the offense, the defense, but its up a step, and I noticed that when I haven’t been on the island and shot some NHL games for a while, that first two to three minutes of action, you’re just playing catch-up sometimes, you catch yourself—you’re like ‘Whoa!’ It just happens a lot faster, and you have to rely a lot more on your instincts to follow the action to get that shot you’re looking for...”
In the time I spoke with Rich Stieglitz, he didn’t come off as a fan or a businessman, but as part artist, part historian and complete professional.
When he would speak of Kevin Colley or Jeff Hamilton, his eyes would light up and speak on the experiences with a passionate type of “You should have seen ‘em” way—not solely in terms of their play, but in the way their emotions came through. The way their intensities would radiate through the game. He spoke of Wade Dubiwitz as wild poetry in motion: not just a net-minder, but also a whirling dervish with a blocker.
While these players were family in terms of the organization, it seems to Rich they were also as wonderful a subject to capture as a lava cascading above a Hawaiian volcano or the thunderous stampede of wild bison charging across a plain.
Technology and time has allowed the common man to capture some fantastic photographs, until his eyes shine like Rich’s and can anticipate a forward’s deke, a defenseman’s stance and a goalie’s blocker, they’re just another guy with a camera.