Now if you told me back at the 2023 NHL All-Star game that I would be photographing the Stanley Cup I would have told you to put the meth pipe down. The Panthers were not even in the Playoff picture. Disfunction and chaos turned into them sneaking into the Playoffs and then they didn’t know how to lose a series. And then I got my chance to add shooting the Stanley Cup to my resume.
There is a lot that goes into shooting a game of this caliber. It’s just not show up shoot and go home. It was long hours, but it was so much fun. It’s different from any other game. From all the TNT crews, photographers from all over, not to mention the media from all over the world, the FLA Live Arena was packed from wall to wall, hallway to hallway.
Knowing that Getty Images led by Bruce Bennett and his crew where shooting the game plus every other media outlet I knew from the onset that I wouldn’t have a photo hole to shoot from. A position by the glass if I was lucky but more than lucky I would be shooting up from above. Having a Nikon 300 f/2.8 really came in handy as it was my go to lens for the Finals. I was able to cover the majority of the ice with it.
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals
My assignment for Game 3 was to shoot warmups from the Panther’s bench then head up to the suites to photograph VIPs and celebrities before finding a spot on the concourse to shoot from. Again the Finals aren’t like any other game, we had a lot more boxes to check off photo wise for the teams, league and sponsors. Just part of the gig.
I don’t think I shot warmup from the Panther’s bench all season, but I knew enough of their routines that I knew where certain player would be during warmups. It was a little surreal being so up close. It was also a little busy along the bench with all the camera crews there.
My goal was a lot of Sergei Bobrovsky and Matthew Tkachuk pics for warmups. They’ve been the heroes for the Panther for most of the Playoffs and their pics/videos get a lot of traction on social media. Tkachuk was in front of me for a good portion of the warmups. Adin Hill, the Vegas goaltender was also by center ice, and Tkachuk would skate back and for talking trash to him. I won’t repeat what was said, but I was entertained.
I did miss the ceremonies before the game because I had to go up to the Miami Dolphins suite and grab some photos of Tua and the rest of the team. The challenge was that everything was black and dark behind them and every photo looked weird to say the least. I was able to grab a frame or two that was usable. We had a list of other celebs to get during the first period, but because of reasons out of our control we spent the whole first period waiting for celebs and their handlers to say it was ok to shoot them.
For the game itself I headed down by center ice on the concourse and stationed myself in between different sets of TNT camera crews. The usual photographer’s nest was filled and overflowing with photographers as there we more photographers than room to shoot. The spot I had was nice but I found a better one with less foot traffic for the remainder of the 2nd and 3rd periods.
The game looked like Vegas was going to take a 3-0 series lead until Matthew Tkachuk played the hero and tied the game; something he has done the entire Playoffs. Now overtime started and the crowd was raucous. Louder than I’ve ever heard. And then once Carter Verhaeghe scored the OT winner, rubber rats began falling down like a summer down pour here in Florida.
While I was blocked on the shot I had Verhaeghe’s entire reaction and subsequent celebration perfectly. There are times as a sports photographer and you’re shooting something and you’re like, “Oh, I nailed that.” Well I nailed that.
Trying to walk in between jubilant fans back down to the NHL photo workroom was a mission in itself. Not to mention all the elevators that were packed with happy fans. I think I ended up getting home around 1:30 in the morning after all was said and done.
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals
Game 4 for me was a lot more straight forward. Shoot warmups and the game from above. Easy enough. I will say that after the Game 3 overtime win the FLA Live Arena was jumping. Loud and you could feel the electricity circulating in the air.
Once the game started that electricity quickly died as Vegas scored 3 goals and the Panthers were left playing catchup all game. The Panthers were able to get it within one with like 2 minutes left and they tried like hell to send the game to overtime again, but Vegas held on to win.
As I was shooting the bench for Vegas celebrating I heard a commotion and there was a huge scrum by the net in front of me. Players were everywhere, punches being thrown, helmets flying off etc. The goalie for Vegas had his mask off and was on top of a Panthers player. Couldn’t see who. It lasted a few minutes before Vegas left the ice being showered by fans throwing bottles and what not at them. Not a good look, but it seems it happened a few times already around the league during the Playoffs.
Vegas went on to win Game 5 and the series. I was hoping for the Panthers to pull out a miracle, but it wasn’t meant to be. After the series it came out a lot of Panther players played with broken bones, torn labrums, obliques etc. Crazy what these guys put themselves through.
As for me, this was such an amazing experience. An All-Star game and Stanley Cup in the same year? I would never have thought that was even possible. Grateful to say the least for the experience. It’s one I’ll never forget; ever!