I was born in a small town, currently live in a small town, and there are times where my appreciation for that is reaffirmed in spades.
On Wednesday evening, my daughter and I found ourselves on a “Daddy/Daughter” date, dinner at Johnny Angel’s in Skaneateles for burgers and fries; we do this whenever my wife is out-of-town on business.
Tabitha was half-way through her black and white milkshake, talking about one of her favorite new Disney shows when a young man approached our table, saying, “Excuse me, are you the gentleman who takes the hockey pictures?”
It took me a moment, but I recognized the person as a player on the Skaneateles High School Boys’ team, even while I wracked my brain for his name. When I told him yes, he smiled, indicated he was a certain player on the team, and said he just wanted to thank me and let me know how much he and his teammates “appreciated everything I do for them.”
To appropriate an English expression, I was ‘gobsmacked.’
The player, who shall remain anonymous, was apparently having dinner with a friend, perhaps taking advantage of the scheduled game between Skaneateles and Homer/Cortland being postponed that evening due to bad weather. He took the time to come over, express his thanks, without any prompting or something similar.
For a bit of context, I’ve been photographing the Skaneateles H.S. Boys and Girls Ice Hockey teams since moving to Skaneateles in July 2017. I’d never photographed the sport before, but thought it would be fun to see if I could produce some good images.
You see, hockey has always held an interest for me, going back to when I was a kid. I was on skates pretty much as soon as I could walk, in large part due to the fact that, not only did I live in Lake Placid, NY (site of “The Miracle on Ice”), but my (late) mother was a former, professional figure skater was was part of Ice Capades for a number of years in the 1960’s. You can see some pictures of her below:
One of my earliest memories was skating on the tennis courts at the old Lake Placid Club, flooded and frozen for the winter. I also remember lessons in the practice rink at the Olympic Center, learning the difference between an axel and a salchow before I was out of pre-school.
My father, having grown up in Lake Placid and played hockey growing up, wanted the same for me. I remember we’d periodically go the practice rink to watch the local high school teams (Lake Placid and Northwood) practice, my father repurposing broken sticks for my use, picking them out of the trash and cutting them down for my smaller hands. FWIW, my first “twig” was a Sherwood, and I used it to knock around a puck on the ice at the flooded tennis courts.
In a manner of speaking, skating was in my blood… although my mother and father had distinctly different opinions as to how I should go about cultivating that. To make a long story short: My mother was concerned I’d get hurt playing hockey, that I wasn’t big enough. My father, saw no problem with my playing, something he’d done as a kid and felt would be good for me, joining a team and all.
Their difference of opinion resulted in something of an uneasy agreement: I would stick to figure skating for as long as it took me to become a good, strong skater, at which point, my mother would let me play hockey. Thing is, no matter how much I skated and improved, my mother felt I still had “more to learn.” In hindsight, it was clearly an attempt to keep me from playing hockey, something she ultimately succeeded in.
In 1981, when my mother FINALLY agreed to let me play, our family up and moved… to New Orleans, LA…. where there was one ice rink… in the entire state… and there was no hockey.
It wasn’t until the early-1990’s that I was reintroduced to then sport, as a spectator. I was attending college at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst when the school brought their men’s hockey program back, and I had so much fun watching the Minuteman play, usually getting spanked by the bruiser programs in Hockey East, and typically as part of a crowd counted in the hundreds… But, the sound of the blades on the ice, the smell of the area… it was all very familiar.
Fast forward a few decades, and you can usually find me at the Allyn Ice Arena, just offset and behind the goal, shooting through the glass to capture our local players in action… and they’re pretty, darn good. The Skaneateles Boys are currently ranked #1 in New York State (Division 2), while the women are similarly top of the heap; Skaneateles is a hockey town. I don’t get paid for much of what I shoot, but it is a lot of fun, and it’s been good to give back to both programs over the past year, passing along some photos to individual players and the booster club for both programs.
So, it’s fair to suggest that, through my hockey photography, I’m vicariously taking the opportunity to do something I missed out on as a kid. There’s a chance, down the line, that I might take a “Hockey 101” class or join a rec. league; I also recently bought my first pair of hockey skates. But for the time-being, I’m getting a kick out of standing along the boards and watching our young residents play.
As for the player who approached me: While I was humbled by his compliment, more than anything I was impressed with his character. He didn’t have to come up and say anything, and there are times where I am certainly of the “get off my lawn” mentality when it comes to teenagers, but this young man is good people, and it’s nice to see that, here in this small town ;-).