Back in May, we posted about a unique opportunity for one of our contributors, Robert Wallace. The largest ice hockey game ever, USA vs Canada, was coming to Australia for the brain injury sports charity, stopconcussions.com. Robert, a serious hockey aficionado, was the exclusive photographer for all three games – both on the ice and behind the scenes. Despite sports photography not being his usual gig – Robert usually shoots lifestyle and celebrity – he couldn’t have been more excited.
Now that the series has passed, we were eager to catch up with Robert and see how he enjoyed shooting the games and how Aussies responded to ice hockey.
CORBIS: What was the size of the crowd?
ROBERT: All three IIHT games (two in Melbourne, one in Sydney) were at sell-out capacity. This makes them the largest ice hockey games ever held in Australia.
Australia has a very limited number of ice rinks. The facilities tend to be small, certainly not big enough to accommodate the number of people the IIHT attracted.
In fact, next year, the Melbourne games will have to be held in a venue large enough to accommodate the number people who were unable to obtain tickets this year.
In Melbourne, the games were held at Hisense Arena, which accommodates 9000 spectators. Ideally those Melbourne games should have been held in the much larger Rod Laver Arena (over the road from Hisense Arena), but it was booked out for a season of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ shows, featuring UK “Spice Girl” Mel C in the cast.
In Sydney, Allphones Arena was the venue, which holds 20,000. Chatting with NHL Alumni player Bryan Muir on the Team Canada bench before the game, he told me the Sydney venue and setting looked just like a real NHL game. That felt like quite an achievement, especially compared to the Melbourne venue, where hockey teams were trying to ’suit up’ in change rooms designed for a single tennis player, not an entire hockey team.
CORBIS: How was their reaction to this level of hockey?
ROBERT: The crowd loved it. I think they’ll wait a long time to have two full NHL teams come to Australia for an exhibition game, so this is as close as they’ll get to some world-class hockey.
CORBIS: How do you think the event was received by Australians?
ROBERT: Overall crowd reaction was spectacular. Whilst not all players were from the NHL, this was the best chance for Australians to see some world-class hockey players in action.
CORBIS: How was shooting hockey different to other subjects?
ROBERT: Australian ice rinks generally don’t have plexi-glass (Aussies call it ‘perspex’) around the rink. Shooting a sports event through the glass proved a challenge to the camera’s optical system, but I was lucky enough to arrange exclusive access to the Team Canada and Team USA player benches, something no other media were granted. This gave me and my assistants some unobstructed views of the action.
CORBIS: Which team seemed to be the crowd favorite?
ROBERT: Team Canada – absolutely. No disrespect to Team USA, but even Aussies know that Canadians have a saying: “our country, our sport”!
CORBIS: Can you give a brief recap of your favorite moments?
ROBERT: Apart from the sheer speed and excitement of the three IIHT games, I have to say the favourite moments for me were meeting the teams and their management. They were superb to work with.
None of the players from either team were paid or received an appearance fee to play in Australia because the IIHT is designed to raise funds and awareness for the brain injury sports charity www.stopconcussions.com – so the guys really showed that they were ‘good sports’.
As a photographer, the other real pleasure for me was working with my two main assistants. One is from Canada (Paul Shedlowich) and he knows hockey very well, having played at the representative level in Toronto. My other assistant (Wendell Teodoro) was raised in the USA and, although he doesn’t follow hockey, his coverage of the game and the crowd action, backstage, behind-the-scenes, etc, was truly remarkable. I don’t know another photographer who could do so much. With any type of event photography, you don’t get a trial run – you just have to perform on the night! Wendell, as a complete hockey newbie performed remarkably well.
CORBIS: Since you’re not predominantly a sports shooter, how did you enjoy photographing the game? Was it what you expected?
ROBERT: I have always devoted myself completely to the art and technique of professional photography. My skill-base and the variety of images I am required to shoot is considerable – from celebrities on red carpets to politicians on the campaign trail to landscapes and architectural/interior photography.
I have always applied myself diligently to mastering all areas of our craft and occupation. While many photographers specialize in one particular area, niche or genre of photography, I have expanded my horizons to cover as many techniques and subject matters as possible.
So, while I don’t focus heavily on sports shooting, I frequently cover local Aussie sports events. Having been a recreational hockey player (for the Sydney Bears) helped a lot, too, as it gave me a knowledge of the game of ice hockey and its rules…. but the Bears sure don’t get the 20,000 capacity crowds that the IIHT players attracted!