The Winter Olympics of 1988 was staged in Calgary, Canada, and is remembered for the heroic failures of Eddie ´The Eagle´Edwards and the Jamaica national bobsled team. The overriding memory that I have of those games is the dominance and power of the gold medal winning, Soviet Union ice hockey team. I was engrossed by the speed and strength of the players and the excitement of the end to end play, oh and of course, the fact that they seemed to be allowed to fight quite freely with opponents without too much punishment.
Growing up in the home counties of England, ice hockey, or any other winter sports for that matter, were quite alien to me and nothing that I ever had the chance to witness live for myself. That was however, until I moved to Norway.
Ice hockey in Norway is big, ice hockey in Stavanger where I live, is huge! Stavanger Oilers, who are are my local team, play their matches at the DNB indoor arena in front of a capacity crowd of 4,500 spectators, they are the Norwegian champions and, at the time of writing this, fighting hard to become the new national champions. They are a relatively young side, established as a company team by Finnish expatriate workers as recently as 2000, but have achieved good success in their short history and gained high popularity amongst the locals and ex-pat community.
The `Oilers´ currently play in the GET-ligaen which is the top division in Norwegian ice hockey. The season is divided into a regular season, lasting from mid September to the first week of March, and a post season, consisting of the Norwegian Championship playoffs. The Norwegian Championship, which is contested in March and April, is an elimination tournament where two clubs play each other in a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The final remaining team is crowned the Norwegian champion.
We are currently at the semi-final stage in the elimination tournament where Stavanger Oilers are up against Storhamar from eastern Norway. After four games of the seven game series, they were all square at 2-2 going in to game five.
This game, like the majority of all other games, was being played in the early evening, making it perfect for fans of all ages to come and support their team. The atmosphere inside the arena leading up to the start of the game was very noisy with the kind of chanting and singing that is more commonly associated with football matches. There was lots of loud music pumped out over the PA system and videos of previous victories shown on the jumbo screen, I was left in no doubt that what was about to take place, meant a great deal to a lot of people, the expectation from all sides was high. As the players entered the rink for the first time they were greeted by a laser and fireworks show, by the time of the ´opening face-off´, every seat and standing position in the arena was full of excited spectators.
Before the game had started I was able to gain access to the coaching areas where the substitutes and management are positioned during the game, this made for some nice images of the players equipment and so, I was keen to get in there again during the two breaks in play that hockey has. Unfortunately, even though I had access, for some reason they turn the majority of the lights off in the arena during intervals so it was almost impossible to see anything in there.
Compared to other sports that I am use to, ice hockey is very difficult to photograph. As well as being very fast and played indoors under challenging lighting conditions, all the action takes place behind perspex glass. Some arenas have small windows cut out of the glass to allow you to point your camera through, but here at the DNB arena, there is no such luxury. The glass is also scratched and has black marks on it caused by the hockey puck hitting it at great speeds, so focussing here can be a bit of a challenge. To capture a relatively clean image you need to keep you lens very close and perpendicular to the glass. However, when you have the lens pressed up to the glass, you need to react quickly and pull yourself away when the players slam into the sides because the perspex is flexible and getting a camera smashed against your eyebrow is no fun, it can also be quite embarrassing if witnessed by 4000 spectators!
Even though there is the challenge of photographing a fast moving sport through scratched perspex under difficult lighting conditions, I do like working at the DNB arena. This is because you can get very close to the action and are allowed to get up close to the coaching areas and have access all the way around the rink. You are also separate from the supporters so you can work pretty much un-obstructed and have direct access to the elevated walkway that encircles the arena. From this walkway you can photograph the action to gain a different perspective, however, it does not go directly above the rink so you can not shoot straight down on the play. Another ´obstacle´ that you have to compete with is the giant black netting that protects the spectators from stray pucks that hangs at both ends of the arena from the roof of the arena down to the glass.
As a sporting event ice hockey has everything, skill, power, speed, passion and excitement. As an event to photograph it also has a lot to offer because as well as being a winter sport that you can shoot indoors away from the elements, there is a certain amount of freedom that you get to move around the rink and to change the elevation from which you can photograph. The lighting conditions and the glass perspex are a challenge, but in the spirit of Eddie ´The Eagle´ Edwards, everyone loves a challenge!