Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pekka Renne, I really respect this guy!

Every city team has its arch rival the team that is your bitterest foe for the Chicago Wolves it is the Milwaukee Admirals. Most Wolves fans would be hard pressed to say anything positive about the Sadmrials as we call them.(The team was named after an washing machine for pity's sake!) Yet we pack up our cars and head north for road trips to the Bradley Center one of the AHL greatest houses to watch them play our Wolves. Usually after a fine meal at Turner's Restaurant we carefully don our teams colors and join the sometimes hostile crowd at the BC to watch the always exciting match when the Wolves and the Admirals meet up.

For the last two years we have seen the Milwaukee coach Claude Noel place most of his hopes on Pekka Rinne a 6'5" 26 year old Finn out of the Finnish Elites. Not only is Rinne pleasure to watch in goal he is a photographers dream, expressive eyes and the grace of a ballet dancer. Last year during the off season he sustained an injury that resulted surgery to his left catching shoulder. Pekka did not start the 06' AHL season until an early February meeting with the Rochester Americans. For that game he was a shadow of his former self, obviously slow on the left. His defence although haplessly letting in goal after goal always kept their fragile goalie protected. Noel wisely kept him between the pipes and kept starting him until he was back in playoff form by April.In time for the first round playoff meeting with the Wolves for the sweep that sent the Admirals back home calling their favorite courses for tee times.

Pekka Rinne is a goalie that has come back from an injury quickly and with courage that might have ended many careers. In watching him in goal for two years he always seems the gentleman and I have never seen a cheap shot from his stick. Whether Rinne's futures lies in the NHL or back in the Elites may only good thing happen to this young man.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Three Blind Mice, See How They Skate...

Referees and linesman in the AHL and UHL (now the IHL) have a difficult job no argument there. Ideally they have the skating skills of a player,full knowledge and understanding of the game and it's rules. Lastly they must posses poise and the confidence to believe in their own judgement of on ice observations. Not an easy position for somebody officially on the learning curve of the job in a "development" league hoping for the call up to the NHL.Just like the players and coaches on the ice with them. All this aside it is the shortsighted policy that calls for one ref and two linesmen in the AHL and UHL(IHL)as opposed to the NHL's two refs that often results in poor referring of games. Refs are only human(some more "human" than others) they can't be everywhere and the lack of the second set of eyes results in over dependence on linesmen and missed or just plain bogus calls. Plainly, more more zebras need to be added to the herd.

This blog is the first in a long series of photos of what the ref missed. Every image has a foul that the ref or linesman did not acknowledge in any way. If possible I will comment on the specifics of the event as I or my partner Patrick Kissane, observed them.

Three blind mice see how they skate....


Friday, July 13, 2007

Stefan Patryk Liv, he came, he saw and then went back to Sweden.

Last April the Grand Rapids Griffins came to play the Chicago Wolves as part of the usual AHL intra division schedule. The Wolves and Griffs are old rivals and since the last rearrangement of the division these "old friends" do not see each other nearly enough. Now every time we meet it's more like a reunion rather than the bitter rivalry it once was. After the game I contacted a Grand Rapids sports writer, Dave Wolf (who is arguably the worlds greatest Griffs fan) and asked him just who was this Stefan Liv? He told me basically Liv was a hot Swede who has come into the Red Wings system to try out the North American game under a one year contract. In the ensuing months Wolf has reported on the Power Play Post Show( Liv having seen the North American game in all of it's glory decided after one year to return home to the Land of the Midnight Sun and sign with HV71 of the Swedish Elites.

Stefan Patryk Liv has an interesting past, born 12/21/80 in Gdynia,Poland he was adopted by Swedish parents at the age of two and carries his birth name of Patryk as his middle name today. An Olympian, he was chosen as the third goalie for the 2006 Swedish Olympic team. Liv was part of the 2000 NHL draft where he was chosen 102nd in the third round by the Detroit Red Wings. Liv decided to stay in Sweden until this past year and signed a one year contract with the Wings. Upon his arrival he was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins and for a short time to their feeder or "farm team" the infamous Toledo Storm.
After a year of endless bus rides through the American Midwest and a view of the rough and ready AHL Liv apparently decided he had seen enough and went home. Fair play to him, you have to respect a athlete who knows what he wants, goes and gets it. Stefan Liv,veni,vidi,fere vichi...Hope to see you in the next Olympics, this time farther up the roster.

Still in short pants and one beauty of a goalie, Hamilton's Carey Price.

Last May during the Calder cup semifinals we were fortunate to see a goalie fresh up from the Ontario Hockey League, Cary Price. Hamilton started the 19 year old Price in game one against the heavily favored Chicago Wolves and he was quickly shelled out of the net. In the end Hamilton won the game but the sight of this gifted young goalie facing his first defeat in the AHL was devastating.
It would prove to be one of his last. Hamilton,starting Price in every following game would loose just one more to the Wolves in the semifinals and then go on to beat the Hershey Bears for the AHL's Calder Cup. Hamilton has emerged from the 06' season with two things, a lovely set of championship rings for their team and a young golaie in Carey Price who's "future is so bright he has to wear shades"


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Friends and places along the hockey road...

Hockey is an amazing sport,if you are lucky it grabs you when you are young like frozen toes and doesn't let go. Some discover it later in life, when they are probably old enough to know better and fall in love with the sport anyway. I was lucky, growing up on a pond I have a basic understanding of hockey, it's culture and players. However, I am far behind in game smarts. In the last few years several kind friends have tutored me in the finer points of the game as it exists today and not as I idealize it with childhood memories. Good teachers like Wolf, an AHL off-ice official and a good friend,who has taught me the importance of concentration at a game and owing a current rule book. Jessica with whom I can discuss the finner points of mechanism of injury as it relates to players,their recovery and performance. Last but not least Timmy and Princess who although they have great hockey minds their true calling is heckling. It is through their efforts that countless fans have been taught to see just what the ref is missing, understand how control of the play is lost and when the proper time it is to start the classic "ref you suck" chant. A rant that is far over used in most areas.

Then there are the amazing people you meet on road trips, the characters and friends you touch along the way are often the second compelling reason to make the journey. What is Grand Rapids with out meeting up with Badger and a drink at the VanDell bar? Hamilton and Manitoba, two cities that can boast of the most welcoming fans I have ever met. It is impossible not to have a good time in either of those towns. The local fans greet you with open arms, feed you, invite you to great parties and treat you like one of their own. Even in the hottest of playoff series, you can't beat Canadian hospitality.

Rockford,next year they will be an opponent but until now the Metro has been a second home, with Stinky, Elvis and others to liven up an already exciting game.

Lastly Toledo, the jewel in the crown of road trips. Last year the Storm closed their doors on a stadium that was not so lovingly described by one of their past players parents as a "hole". True, the halls in places were three shoulders wide, the ice had puddles and the air,well, could only be described as rank. But, the old girl had character,the kind that can't be bought. You know it when you see it, seats worn by the millionth bottom sitting in them, floors with grooves from fans rushing to seats. A great cup of coffee served with a smile during the third period to keep you awake for the long drive home. Although we never saw any I suspect the rats were only kept in check by the legion of feral cats that lived along Mawnee River just a few feet from the arena. Such a stadium could only attract great traditional hockey fans that are something out of "Slap Shot". The glass only came up to most adults chests, it was possible for a fans to reach down and make contact with players during play. During most games it was not unusual to see a fan was ejected for grabbing an opposing player. Something this photographer observed during the Gwinnett/Storm game we attended, it was treated as a common case of over exuberance on local a fans part. Security handled it quickly and everyone in the stands shrugged their shoulders.Powderhornhockey

Last April while driving home from Hamilton we read that the old girl was closing her doors and the Toledo Storm were taking a years hiatus from the ECHL. In the 08" season the new team with a shiny new stadium will take the ice. It will be new but I doubt that the stadium will get a mention in anybodies blog as a character it's self they have met on road trips.Bless the old girl, they probably miss you already.

Following the team on the road is one of the best parts any sport. It has been a long off season for Wolves fans and we eagerly await the Red Wings Rookie Tournament and Training Camp in September. The Rookie list looks good with a reappearance of last years Chad Denny and a hot Swede of our own to check out. In short..Drop that puck!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Look at that face..

At most games we shoot an average of 500 shots sometimes far more. As I edit them there is a litany of "butt shot,butt shot, butt shot" coming from the study. Probably one out of ten shots is kept. The remaining file is often then divided into informal categories of individual player(Mom shots), "sweet", contact,action and face.

Faces can make or break a photo, it can be a face in the crowd or a player that is the spice to an action shot that lends it emotion. You never know until the image is flashed upon the large computer screen and then sometimes if you are very lucky, humanity in all of it's glory is looking back at you. This post shares some of my favorite faces of the AHL and UHL 06' season.

This image truly tells a story. The happy man holding the Colonial Cup is Craig Drektrah a recent part owner of the Rockford IceHogs and present owner of the Chicago Hounds both of the UHL.(For a full discussion of the Chicago Hounds please check out this linkage ) Drektrah and family were on the ice celebrating along with his old team and business partner Dr. Kris Tumilowicz (in black). The fascinating part of this photo is the bald man, Richard L. Brosal who resigned as CEO of the UHL shortly before the playoffs. He is totally isolated from the cyclone of emotion around him, he could have been Photoshoped in, trust me he isn't. In the weeks since this photo has been taken,the Hounds have lost their lease and have folded, no announcement has been made as to the future of the franchise. The UHL now a wopping six teams has announced a reorganization and name change the new "IHL". The more things change the more they stay the same.


Monday, July 2, 2007

Hockey in the Cornfields? Two Iowa Stars!

I'll just admit it up front, many of the players I photograph and will write about because I might possibly know them, respect something about them or their play. That can't be said about the subjects of this blog, I photographed these two goalies simply because they are two of the most photogenic players I have ever encountered. Simply put Iowa's Dan Ellis (#30) and Tobias Stephan(#31)can't take a bad picture. Faces like theirs are what eight gig memory chips are made for.......Lordy Lou, I hope at least one of them is back between the pipes next year in the AHL!