Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Witnessing James Neal's joy of hockey up close

In honor of James Neal's incredible start to the 2017/2018 NHL season with the Las Vegas Golden Knights I dug up these memorable photographs from 2013.

At the time I was shooting photographs for a now-extinct website that got me ice-level access to Islanders games at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. Sitting through hours of dreaded traffic on I-495 was worth this.

Because here I was shooting through one of the six photo holes at ice level. The ice cool air was blowing through as I stuffed either of the two lenses of my cameras through for the perfect pic. I had to pull back the camera to avoid stray pucks, sticks and players.

Sometimes an NHL player (cheers Antoine Roussel) or a ref would hand me a puck through the photo hole to give away to fan behind me. My friend Greg would get mad at me for not keeping the puck, but there are rules amongst the professional photographers, mind you :) Plus, I had already caught a NJ Devils game puck years earlier as a fan, so I was good as far as game pucks go.

Oh yeah, and when I was putting my 70-200 camera lens through the photo hole during warm-ups sometimes a player would deliberately try to destroy it with a wrister from the blue line for some laughs. Yeah, Robyn Regehr, I'm talking about you! But, these were experiences that I will not easily forget. Especially as a fan of the game.

So, here is how these James Neal photos came about. After I drove in for the game with some good friends and a bit of tailgating I put my press face on and wandered around the parking lot to collect pix. The parking lot pix were fun. Fans were in their gear going nuts. There was a car smashing area. If I recall, this was the first Islanders home playoff game in five years. So the atmosphere was alive. It was a rare afternoon weekend game too so the tailgating was in its maximum state. The smell of grilled up goodness and booze was all around. My crew got on the local TV station with their Stiga hockey tables.

After gathering up some outdoor parking lot pix I decided to meander inside the arena to see what was happening and if there was anything was worth photographing. It was early and it was pretty much just me inside with a handful of ushers and security folks. My press badge gave me access to pretty much everywhere. I remember getting lost in the boxes upstairs one time. There were these enormous photographs of Islanders greats covering the hallways up there. You know, guys like Mike Bossy. The Islanders were one hell of a team in the 80s! They won four straight Stanley Cups!

So, anyway, when I wandered inside the empty arena I noticed that every seat in the place was covered with orange playoff towels. That was really cool. Here are some photos of that:

While I was setting up these photos I noticed some people skating on the ice. View some of the pix here, including one of Sid the Kid Crosby working the corner during the game. This is when Sid had a broken jaw and was rocking the weird lower face protective glass. But I digress. I had some interesting encounters or observations of Crosby during the couple of years I was photographing NHL games at at the coliseum. Sid is very particular about taping up the blade of his stick between periods. He was one of the first ones out of the locker room between periods and onto the runway taping up his stick just right.

Between me and you, I believe this is part of his needing to have an awareness of things happening outside and around him and the team at all times. This extended beyond the ice into the locker room area. It's not quite unlike John Tavares' pregame stretch routine in the hallway outside of the press room. I believe Johnny, as his teammates call him, also has a need to establish an awareness of the things happening around him. Or perhaps they both just need a quiet moment to focus. It was fun to see that up close, whatever it was.

Anyway, James Neal was in a sweatshirt and shorts that day standing at the end of the runway shooting some pucks around. He was actually injured at the time and didn't play in that game. I was struck by how much fun he was having just shooting some pucks at the net. He's a Whitby, Ontario born Canadian, just outside of Toronto.

Here he was, James Neal, standing on the threshold of the ice in sneakers shooting pucks at the net. I think, here is a player who just loves the game that much that he can't stay away from it. Teammates, like the legendary Evgeni Malkin were there checking out what Neal was up to. And they were enjoying the moment like kids that love hockey.

And for me to be there, that close to a moment like that, that close to these superstars that I love to watch play the game...it gives me chills to this day to think about it.

To them it was just another moment on the ice.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chasing death

An aerial over Greenwood Lake looking southwest. (By Jai Agnish) 
I wrote about a 20-year-old that died in an early morning car crash Monday and chased it down some more on Tuesday.

It happened in my hometown. On East Shore Road, a road I've driven countless times. I was just living in Greenwood Lake, N.Y. this past winter and made the drive on that long, windy road over and over again from the office in Butler, N.J.

I've seen it in the daytime and in the nighttime. Those trees. That lake. I wonder what Paul saw in the moments before his tragic death Saturday.

Today I pursued some leads, or rather rumors, and filed a records request. The police station, the phone, the house numbers. Someone has to go and knock on Paul's mom's door. That was me today.

I'm still not sure what I would've asked her, or first said. It's a dreadful assignment, but it's outweighed when you consider your place in this reality. I didn't just lose a son.

So, you hope she's not home. And if she is, you hope you say the right thing. Ask the right questions. That your humanity takes over. You expect that. Being a reporter that is also aware of being a human. The balance of life, I suppose.

I left my card in the screen door. And then I went home, and wrote about a new Taco Bell coming to Wanaque.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl halftime show

Super Bowl halftime show by Jai Agnish
Super Bowl halftime show, a photo by Jai Agnish on Flickr.

Super Bowl halftime show at MetLife Stadium in Easter Rutherford, NJ Feb. 2, 2014. This photograph was published with this article/slideshow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

'Here, take it'

"Take it" by Jai Agnish
"Take it", a photo by Jai Agnish on Flickr.
Dallas Stars' forward Antoine Roussel hands a puck through a photohole for a fan during warm-ups. From the game between the Stars and New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on Jan. 6, 2014.

Some of the photos I took during this game were published with this article that I wrote at examiner.com.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fisheye view: Battle in the corner

The New York Islanders against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. Pictured foreground from left: Matt Martin (#17), Daniel Alfredsson (#11), Casey Cizikas (#53), Radek Martinek (#4), Justin Abdelkader (#8).

Some of these photos were published with this article that I wrote at examiner.com.