On March 11, 2020, I was driving home from photographing an American Hockey League game between the Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets in the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, I was listening to the NHL Network SiriusXM channel in my car. The news of the National Basketball Association (NBA) shutting down their season because of the threat from the COVID virus was breaking. By the end of the week both the American and National Hockey League seasons had been “paused”.
Not only did the professional teams but all the high school and collegiate teams I covered for local newspapers had their seasons cancelled. I went from photographing three to five games a week to none for the rest of 2020. Then, the news came the Syracuse Crunch would have a shortened season of 32 games starting on February 6, 2021. I was asked to photograph their home games. No fans, skeleton staff, scouts, some local media and COVID precautions in full effect.
After 332 days, I was back in action! However, in very different circumstances. No contact with the players allowed and a fanless arena.
It is an eerie feeling watching AHL games with no fans except for those who put their likeness in the seats as cutouts. It is interesting to hear the players yelling to each other or Officials yelling at the players. The game operations people do pipe in music, sound effects and even crowd noise after the Crunch score a goal but it is not the same.
The players are doing their best as it must be hard without the home fans cheering them on. Fans are cheering but from their homes as most of the Crunch’s home games are being televised locally.
Making the best of a strange situation, I can roam the whole arena and photograph from different locations without worrying about getting in a fans field of view. For instance, this photo was taken from a seat along the glass which is usually filled with season ticket holders.
Last game, I set up in the end of the rink the Crunch were skating towards. It also meant I was shooting through the protective “glass”. In doing so, I needed to process the digital photos differently by adding a slight dose of the Dehaze slider in Adobe’s Lightroom Classic photo processing application.
As the world and the United States slowly moves towards normalcy with vaccines being more available (I get my first vaccine shot later today, in fact), the hope is the AHL will return in October for a normal season with fans filling up the Upstate Medical University Arena at the Onondaga County War Memorial and all the other league’s venues.
Until that happens, I will be covering the Crunch’s home games every Saturday night until early May. If you can watch the games, you might see me.