A Pond Hockey Weekend

The entire stadium sings along. “Born and raised in South Detroit…” as they walk down the steps, no matter if they are satisfied with a win or disappointed by a loss.

Every time Journey’s song, ‘Don’t Stop Believing‘ comes on I sing along as if I was walking down the Joe Louis’ steps. I can’t associate the song to anything else now. Only to Detroit, Motown, and yes, Hockeytown.

Five years ago, when I first moved to Detroit, I joined a hockey team, the Kamikaze Falcons. It might seem ironic that in Hockeytown there was very limited space for a newcomer to join a team. I knocked on several rink’s doors and got the usual “leave me your name and number and if a spot opens up we’ll call you”. Silence for the most part, until the league organizer at the Royal Oak rink contacted me telling me that maybe there was something. Soon after the GM, coach, main-organizing-man, Jeremy, contacted me to invite me to their team.

Since then I’ve played with them regularly, admittedly fluctuating on commitment levels, but never on allegiance. It’s my team here in the D.

And through league expansions, Saturday games, making new friends and all that, came the opportunity of going to play pond hockey.

You see those photos of crystal clear, dark blue ice, snow covered backdrops and think “man do I want to put my skates on there”. Sticks, gloves, skates, a puck, and some fellas to hang with. What’s better?

All that, and having a camera with you.

It was three years in the making, because for two years the winters were just too warm. The ice couldn’t thicken the needed foot or so to hold the weight of maybe 500 players that showed up that weekend.

The same weekend the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang started. February 9th, 2018. It was all coming together.

Aside from the snow. It had snowed all day, and it continued to snow for three days straight, even throughout the tournament. But that didn’t stop it from happening. It didn’t stop from the ‘Hockey Culture‘ taking over Whitmore for that weekend. Essentially playing hockey, cool guys wanting to have a good time, and beer. Yes, a lot of beer.

6 of us, and one of the guy’s girlfriend, got to the AirBnB that Friday, changed, and headed out to play our first game. We checked-in in one of the tents, and head to one of the 20 rinks.

Hockey Culture 101. Beer, Gloves, Skates and Helmet. Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2017

Square haystacks to the side for sitting, soaking up the water, and who knows, insulation? I’m not too sure.

And large gathering tents always need a screen. For what? To watch some more hockey.

People warming up in the tent while sipping on beers and watching more hockey, Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2017

I adjust my ISO back to 2000 as we leave the tent and head to the rink. The rinks and general settings were illuminated by powerful lighting sysmtes that ISO 2000 allowed me to get the correct exposure. My Nikon D5500, with the 18-200 3.5 lens was a great setup for documenting, and ultimately discovering through photography.

For the night I would leave the camera in Shutter speed priority.

Participants playing pond hockey, Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2017. 3.5 f-stop, 1/80, iso 2000

Damn! I do not want to play these guys tomorrow was my first thought when I saw the scoreboard. Well really the first thought was I like the red and white on both the scoreboard and the guy’s uniform. Waited a bit and snapped the photograph.

Obviously it wasn’t 9 to 80. It was simply that in flipping the numbers back they had mistakingly changed the wrong one.

We find our bench. It also was covered in snow. It was snowing pretty heavily that I didn’t know whether to take out the rain cover for the camera or not. I decided I would chance it.

We play, we lost. 7 to 4.

Toes pretty frozen and hands not doing too well either we take our skates off. What’s next? Well of course, another beer. We hang out for a while and then switch court. Like being at Wimbledon, in search of Roger Federer. Another guy we know that is a superstar player, and just a cool friendly guy.

Locate his rink, and hands freezing, beer in the one hand, I pull our the tripod. I wanted to make a photo with something moving and something else static. Much like the landscape waterfall photos that are taking over now-a-days. But the water in this case was still, frozen, while the players were moving.

As was the snow blowing off the rink boards, right above the hockey bag. That’s what happens with a 1/3 second shutter speed.

In pond hockey you don’t have a goalie. You have to get the puck in one of the two openings in the red goal above. At night, on rough ice, and with snow coming down it is much harder than it looks.

First game down! Tomorrow we’ll get a win we all say convincingly.

On our way home, The Whitemore Lanes and Lounge Welcomes Pond Hockey players

“Turn around, we need beer”. We had our orders.

 

We pick it up and head back. The fridge is full.

Ya, we’re definitely going to win tomorrow with this diet.

Gatorade to make us all feel like real sportsmen. Beer to make us feel like real hockey players.

And after a night watching TV shows and playing Euchre, we wake up to this.

 

Fortunately there was some coffee. Make a fresh pot and start getting ready for the next game.

Our stuff all laid out in the basement and it smelled like shit. But who cares. It’s hockey.

It was snowing, and it was grey. I was wondering whether I should add some exposure compensation or not, because it really did seem grey. After a quick shot I decided to add +0.6 stops.

We get there at 10am, set our bags down, start shoveling the snow from the rink, much like everyone else,  and get playing.

 

 

And lose. 11-6. Our chances of moving to the final stages were officially done with.

In despair we all turned to our one and only true companion. Beer. And my Nikon.

After watching a couple of games here and there we head back to the tent. And while hockey was interesting, it seemed like the Olympics, and skiing, was of no interest to anyone.

Lunch time was coming around and we all went to grab some lunch which was all filled with other hockey players. It felt like our little PyeongChange, a few thousand miles away. The pizza was still heavy on our stomachs, but who cares. We are active sports men. “Let’s just throw in a grilled cheese to share”, I suggest. Team spirit.

The afternoon goes by and we play again at 6pm. This time it’s almost the blue hour. The sky’s color was just a deep rich blue hue.

And let’s experiment with different angles to give a variety of perspectives, like in the photo above.

All the while, we lose, again, 14-5.

But we meet a guy who created a box to haul his hockey equipment in pond hockey tournaments. Skis on the bottom, bottle opener to the side, and a power outlet, if I remember correctly. Regardless, it was a badass bench and an ingenious system.

He made it a point to remind us that it had nothing to do with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but rather the colors of his team.

We have a night cap there at the rink and I wander, looking for some last photos. Camera in one hand, beer in the other. Yes, cause the settings were all dialed in at that point.

Only the shutter was left to be pressed.

An ice rink with the goals on one end, Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2018
Barrels to keep people warm, held up by concrete blocks, for obvious reasons. Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2018
Michigan Pond Hockey, Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2018
Specially crafted Michigan Pong Hockey skate guards, Whitmore Lake, Michigan, Feb 2018

 

Hockey, beer, discovery, photography and great company. What else?

 

Until Next Time,

World Press Photos. News and Art.

 

Gio

 

P.S.

Your Team