When the New York Islanders playoff run shifted to Edmonton there was only one person who regularly covered the team inside the bubble with them. It wasn’t the regular beat writers who often traveled with the team, nor was it the broadcast crew that covers all 82 of their games, plus the postseason.
No, it wasn’t any of them. Rather, it was hockey photographer and Getty’s director of hockey photography Bruce Bennett, who in four decades of shooting hockey has seen just about everything.
“Being the only Long Island guy in the bubble is kind of bizarre,” Bennett told NYI Hockey Now during a Zoom interview from his hotel room in Edmonton. “But, to succeed in this business you need to put that wall up. Whether you’re blocking the fans out or you’re blocking the noise in the building out, which obviously we don’t have to do here. I have to block out that Long Islander in me and go ‘it’s just about you and the game and capturing the scene.'”
The laser-focused approach that Bennett brings to his work is something that even Islanders head coach Barry Trotz would admire, and it’s what has made him one of the best to capture some of the Islanders’ and hockey’s biggest moments. Bennett is in the middle of his 45th season photographing hockey and the 40th Stanley Cup Final he will have covered.
This one will certainly be the most unique one he’s had to work.
Bennett is just one of only a handful of photographers capturing one of the most historic Stanley Cup playoffs that the NHL has put on. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett has been forced to snap pictures from the last row of Rogers Place because he not permitted inside the more secure areas of the bubble that the league has created around the unique 2020 postseason.
That means Bennett’s usual spot on the glass is off-limits for him.
Similar to what the players experienced, Bennett went through his own adjustment period when he began shooting games on Aug 24. Bennett arrived in the Edmonton 14 days earlier but was forced to quarantine in adherence to Canadian restrictions for anyone entering the country.
“I guess I’ve come to the realization that with that crowd going crazy that not only gets the players into the game, but it gets my head into the game more,” Bennett said. “It’s like a bubble hockey game where you’re outside looking in. The distance is a big thing. Shooting from so far away and seeing the tops of heads is odd, instead of seeing faces.”
Bennett did get a little bit of a break when the Islanders entered the Edmonton bubble for the Eastern Conference Finals.
Having that knowledge of the players and their movements made Bennett’s job easier. Similar to how a linemate gets to know a teammate’s pattern, it was the same for Bennett when he was shooting pictures.
“Where there most likely to go on the ice, where there passes are most likely to go,” Bennett explained. “Having a little bit of familiarity and being the hometown Long Island boy, trying to take the fan out of it, that’s definitely helped. It piqued my interest and getting the razzing from the two other photographers who are beside me when the Islanders give up a goal. It’s all good natured fun, but it’s definitely got my head back in the game.”
Bennett’s connection with the Islanders runs deeper than just the visits to Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center to photograph the Islanders. Bennett served as the team’s official photographer and has captured some of the most iconic images in the team’s history.
His photo of Bobby Nystrom following his Stanley Cup Winning goal from 1980 remains one of Bennett’s top memories
Even with that connection to the Islanders, Bennett maintained an emotional distance from what was transpiring on the ice with the Islanders. New York had been competing in the conference finals for the first time since 1993.
“I remove myself from the situation. It’s the only way to do this job,” Bennett said. “The only positive is my 95-year-old mother back in East Meadow gets her Newsday everyday and she’s clipping out my pictures with the photo credits on them. I guess that’s what I’m shooting for. … I’m very close to (the Islanders), but when I get into that arena it’s really just about the best images.”
And getting that iconic image, as Bennett has done so many times, is a simple formula for the veteran photographer. For him, it’s just about remaining focused during the course of the game and outworking the photographers around him.
Bennett does the homework before going into any game he covers. He reads newspapers, checks the hockey websites and looks at the media notes. “I’m prepared and I’m hoping when I get to a game they’re not prepared,” Bennett said.
“For us, you have to be in the game,” Bennett said. “It’s a little bit of a formula. A goalie save. A hard hit, jubilation, dejection and then you run back through it. Some creative images. Some that are off center, white ice and player on the side of the image. There is a little bit of a formulaic progression that you go through during a game.”