BOSTON -- If Wednesday evening unfolds as planned, photographer Bruce Bennett will be on the ice within a few seconds of the 2019 Stanley Cup having been won, once more capturing the unspeakable elation of triumphant players and the crushing disappointment of those who have come up short.
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For the 39th time, Bennett is photographing the Stanley Cup Final. Fans know his work, even if his name isn't always attached to it, Bennett having shot many of hockey's most compelling photos in NHL and international arenas over the past four decades. His talent, experience, sense of timing and good fortune intersect to produce his most magical photos, and Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) is just his latest opportunity to freeze the action.
As Director of Photography, Hockey Imagery, for the global agency Getty Images, Bennett will lead a team of four photographers into Game 7, shooting his Canon through a hole in the glass in the TD Garden corner just beside the doors through which the arena's two ice-resurfacing machines emerge. It's in vantage points like this that he can get his most dramatic images.
Additionally, Bennett will be operating three cameras by remote control -- one inside the net at the far end of the rink, one attached to a goal-light stanchion to provide a wider view of that crease, and a third that will shoot a wide view of the entire arena.
"With that one, I'm hoping for players to be jumping off the bench, dancing across the ice toward the winning goaltender," he said in conversation on the eve of the game.
Bennett plans to be on the ice within the first half-minute of the final buzzer. Strict rules govern on-ice access postgame; he is in the so-called first wave of three photographers, which includes Dave Sandford from NHL Images and one from the winning team, who will roam the ice freely from the moment the game ends.
"I'm going to work it out hopefully so that I can stay in my position through the first 10, 15 seconds of celebration, then jump the railing and go out on the ice," Bennett said. "For way too many Stanley Cup wins, I've been in the corner 20 or 30 feet back from the ice when that final horn goes off, pushing a button to trigger remote cameras but not having any view of the first few seconds of celebration."
A second wave will join Bennett and the other two shooters, restricted to a carpet at center ice for the Stanley Cup presentation to the winning captain by Commissioner Gary Bettman, but given free rein after the team photo is taken. And then access widens to allow print, digital and electronic media and families onto the ice, where thousands of words will be recorded and thousands of photos will be taken over a period of an hour or longer.
"It's much better than the old days when it was a fight for a position for the first moment, fighting with 25 or 30 photographers to be right in front of the player with the Cup," Bennett said. "We used to say, 'the widest lens wins,' when you'd get pushed right up into the players holding the Cup.
"I remember one year in Edmonton after an Oilers victory was especially violent," he said with a grin. "I got off the ice to discover that my watch had disappeared and the flash had broken off the top of my camera. My memory of that was being pushed right into Wayne Gretzky with the Cup and seeing some fear in his eyes as he was yelling, 'Back up! Back up!' The NHL did a great job of getting things under control after that to kind of calm things down a bit."
Born and raised on Long Island, one of his most personally satisfying photos is from the New York Islanders' 1980 Stanley Cup win, Bob Nystrom overcome with joy after having scored at 7:11 of Game 6 overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers. That gave the Islanders the first of their four consecutive championships.
There are other remarkable images too numerous to catalog, of wild celebration and quiet reflection, in action and during breaks in play.
"I'm not good at keeping track of years so when somebody says, 'Remember the one in 2006?' I really have no idea," Bennett said. "It's hard from year to year, kind of like your childhood pictures -- you don't know whether your memory is of the event itself or of the photo of the event."
Like the players, coaches and fans, Game 7 brings Bennett additional stress. He speaks of more moving parts, of photographers changing positions in the final few minutes of the game, of remotes and frequencies that might need tweaking, of changing settings on cameras before going out onto the ice "to give yourself the best chance of success."
An economy-sized white-haired man with a salt-and-pepper moustache, you'll be certain to see Bennett, loaded down with cameras, on TD Garden ice scurrying about in the postgame madness. And if he seems as sure-footed as a mountain goat, that's not by accident.
Years ago, "after having almost broken my neck a few times," he took to wearing pull-on cleats, seven spikes embedded in flexible rubber, that grip the soles of his running shoes. They might be the least expensive piece of equipment in his bag, but among the most valuable.
From state-of-the-art equipment to his pull-on cleats, Bennett today embraces the technologies with which he's evolved while working within rules of access that have been rewritten dramatically during his career.
But with Game 7 looming, more history soon to be made, this remains a constant: Bennett hopes that his greatest image is still in his camera, waiting to be taken as soon as Wednesday night.