Hockey is quite a unique sport – it is fast, has a lot of technical skill, and there is a lot of physicality. Depending on the level of hockey, it can be really good, really bad, or somewhere in between.
When I was a kid, we’d play on the local rink around here as much as we could. Our boards were snowbanks and our skills were nothing special. I’m shocked to this day that none of us lost any teeth or broke any bones.
OK, so I did get a concussion once, but that wasn’t during “game action,” though it came on the ice.
When in graduate school, I went to a Division I school – Quinnipiac. At that time, they played at a local rink (I still need to make my way to the school to see a game at the new rink) and I loved it. Since then, I’ve kept tabs on QU, attending games yearly in the Albany area when they make their trip to play Union and RPI.
Because my niece was a member of the SUNY Broome CC women’s soccer team (a team, mind you, that won a national championship this past fall), I see updates from the school and such on occasion. Something caught my eye early in the winter season – that the school would host the final NJCAA hockey championship in late February.
I marked it on my calendar, hoping I’d get a chance to watch. As it worked out, I had taken the Friday of the tournament as a vacation day and had the weekend pretty free. So, I went.
One thing I rarely get to do is shoot hockey. For the majority of the weekend, I was pretty close to the action, taking photos in different ways and seeing what I could capture. There was some good hockey. There was some sloppy hockey. And, again, there was some in the middle.
But it was hockey.
On the line was the final NJCAA championship. It’s the last championship because the NJCAA is eliminating the sport from its competition. That makes sense, though, as there are just five schools remaining that have hockey in the NJCAA – four in New York and one in northern North Dakota.
The tournament was played as a round-robin, so for three days Broome’s rink played host to two games each day. The final game proved the seeds were correct as Dakota College at Bottineau faced off against Erie CC for the second straight yet. Dakota, the reigning national champs, were the top seed.
But for three days – hockey lived in Binghamton. Hudson Valley and Mohawk Valley were the other two teams involved. There was physical play, some pretty play, and some … “did that just happen?” sort of things.
I’ve long been a supporter of community college/JUCO athletics. For 20 years, my hometown school – SUNY Delhi – hosted the NJCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament. I worked at that tournament for many of those years and always loved it. I’ve seen other national championships at this level and there’s something pure about it.
I had never watched the NJCAA hockey championship before, so this was the perfect time. Broome has a tremendous rink, with bright lighting and a crisp surface. It’s perfect for photography, which I found out.
I can’t lie, though – I’m not a fan of a certain Division I North Dakota college hockey team. Can you blame me, though? They whitewashed Quinnipiac in the national championship in 2016, so I have hard feelings.
That being said, there was something to like about this North Dakota team playing in Binghamton. They knew how to really play the game. Not to take anything away from the other three teams – but it was easy to cheer for Bottineau. They had skill, and speed, and could get physical. The goalie play was excellent. They also seemed to have a joy to be on the ice.
That says something about a program, too.
When you can be out there and seem like it’s not work – that it’s still fun, yet still be that successful – you’ve found your payday.
I don’t know any of the player’s names. I only know the coaches name by sight, because I saw it in the program and in a few other things I saw. I looked up the history of the school and this championship was their 10th overall – pretty cool to have the final NJCAA title be your 10th.
Not having a vested interest in the tournament wasn’t a bad thing – it actually allowed me to watch, take photos and enjoy what unfolded.
The championship game ended about 35 seconds short when an Erie player dashed out of the box and shoved an official to the ice with a lot of force, the one black eye to a really good weekend of hockey. The two other officials, once everything was settled (you can Google this incident to see video and followup), had the remaining time run off the clock, allowing the Dakota players to have their well-deserved celebration in a 7-4 victory.
Nothing will take away what this team achieved this past weekend. Three straight days of hockey isn’t easy, especially when you consider most of these teams don’t have the plethora of lines major teams might have. This Dakota team did something truly special by winning the back-to-back crowns and giving their school the 10th title. And no matter what happens with junior college hockey in the future, it’s something they can carry with them for a lifetime.
And being able to be there and watch was pretty cool, too. It allowed me to do some hockey photography close to the action, as well as challenge myself not just in the action sports sense, but in the creativity side as well. Oh, and I got the newspaper feel again, too, as I was contacted by a newspaper in North Dakota to
Eventually I’ll have all the photos processed and up on Flickr and will link back to this post, as well as mention it on other social media. Mind you a lot of times when shooting sports, I am on rapid fire and get a lot of sequences and hope to get just one shot out of it — but for the weekend, I shot just under 10,000 images (remember, one sequence can be anywhere from 4-5 photos to 25 or more), so that’s a lot to sift through!