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Stanley Cup Final has all angles covered with in-goal cameras

Technology capturing action behind Bruins, Blues goalies as never before

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

BOSTON -- They were five unblinking eyes in the net, ready to be the goalie's best friends or worst enemies, depending on what they saw.

The value of those eyes and what gave them sight was roughly $100,000 in each net behind Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. That's $20,000 per goal in the St. Louis Blues' 3-2 overtime win against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday that tied the best-of-7 series 1-1.

Three stationary cameras were those of the NHL; two were embedded in the crossbar, the third mounted between them a few inches lower, all staring at the goal line ready to determine whether a puck had entered the net.

 

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

In the middle of the net, just above the ice, was a plexiglass-protected box holding a Canon camera with a 15mm fish-eye lens, shutters released by remote control by two Getty Images photographers, one at each end of the rink.

And mounted on a bracket above that box was the 360-degree robotic camera with full pan and tilt function operated by veteran specialty-camera operator Geoff Gordon, a round eye that viewers saw spinning behind the goalie to follow the action.

Two padded white boxes framed the Canon box, holding batteries and transmitters that fueled the video system and exported their signals.

1, 2: NHL cameras embedded in crossbar, aimed at goal line; 3: NHL fixed camera aimed at goal line; 4. 360-degree TV camera; 5: Padded bag containing NHL camera transmission system and batteries; 6: Canon camera with 15mm fish-eye lens for still photos; 7: Padded bag containing high-definition super-slow-motion two-stream TV transmission system and batteries.

 

In-net camera technology has taken a quantum leap from its earliest days. Used for the first time at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, views from behind the goalie came to the NHL soon after, when North American broadcasters realized the value of adding another dimension to their production.

The video Gordon's swiveling camera produced took a dramatic step up from what was seen in Game 1 on Monday; arriving Tuesday from Slovakia, where it was used during the IIHF World Championship, was a high-definition super-slow-motion system, known in the business as super-mo or high frame-rate. 

"The Worlds gave the system a really good workout," Gordon said before Game 2.

The system's clarity, at up to 300 frames per second, is stunning, a massive upgrade from the usual format of 30 to 60 frames. 

"A puck last game that sailed in under the goalie's arm is a bit of a blur, a streak, then it lands in the net," said Gordon, known as "Flash" by anyone who works with him. "Tonight, the same shot, if you have a clear view of it, you're going to be able to read that puck as it flutters into the net. You could almost literally read the logo on the puck and almost be able to read the edge of it to see where it was made."

The super-mo system, used in Stanley Cup Final games in Las Vegas last season, is much more complex than the standard. Two streams of video are fed from transmitters, one a live feed to which a TV director can cut at any time, the other a replay-triggered stream that can be used at the frame rate of a director's discretion to replay an event of choice -- a goal, save, deflection or goal-mouth collision.

Gordon, a native of Oakville, Ontario, has been a specialty-camera technician and operator for about 25 years, trained to operate cameras mounted under the scoreboard and over the glass. In Boston, he was responsible for the cameras in each net, as he will be throughout the series. The feed from the nets is provided to NBC/NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet and his employer in this Final, TVA Sports.

Game 3 is at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

At TD Garden, Gordon watched the games at a less-than-luxurious nerve center under the stands near the entrance for the ice-resurfacing machines, sitting in front of five monitors tabled among steel girders and a spaghetti-mess of cables. He was constantly manipulating the rotating cameras in each net in anticipation of where he thought the play would be, not where it was.

"My view of the game is through the lens of every each of the cameras in the goal, one at a time, shifting focus to the net where the play moves," he said. "I'm looking through the lens that's behind the goalie, trying to see through an obstructed view to predict where he's going to go and where the shot's going to come from."

The white bag on the left, as you look into the net, contains the system used by the NHL's three cameras. The one on the right houses the CCU, or camera-control unit, for Gordon's mobile eye, with two video transmitters sending two separate streams. That bag has rear mesh openings top and bottom, inhaling cold air from the ice that cools the equipment, exhausted at the top when warmed.

The spring-mounted robotic camera, Gordon says, can take a lot of punishment. It's able to withstand a sliding body or a heavy shot.

"If it takes a direct hit from a Zdeno Chara slap shot, it would take it better than we would," Gordon joked of the Bruins defenseman. "The camera's best defense is the goalie standing in front of it. And he has a vested interest in keeping the puck out of the net."

Gordon will gauge battery life as the game goes on, prepared to install fresh power at the end of the second period if necessary or if the game is close and possibly headed for overtime. The ice crew that shovels the rink during TV timeouts can dust clean a snow-caked lens, which wasn't the case in the system's early days. Gordon often had to do the work himself, which had its entertaining moments.

"Goalies are known to be odd and superstitious, and when they're in game mode, you don't talk to these guys," he said. "But go back to the days when the Bruins' Tim Thomas was playing; he was very personable on the ice, he took an interest in what I was doing. 

"Chris Osgood [of the Detroit Red Wings] became a friend of mine. He'd speak to me when we were out there fixing something. I'd have a goalie talking to me through his mask, just to escape the pressure of the game for a minute. He'd say, 'How did that last puck beat me? Did you see that? Boy, I [stink] tonight. Tell me how your night's going because I'm not having a good one.' "

Having arrived at TD Garden at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Gordon dismantled the in-net system an hour after the Blues' overtime victory and crated it for Thursday shipment to St. Louis. He'll reassemble it at Enterprise Center for Games 3 and 4, then return to Boston next Tuesday for Game 5.

Nothing was any worse for wear, no angry goalie having considered his camera his worst enemy.

"Ron Hextall was the first goalie to punch my camera," Gordon said, laughing.

He remembered the Philadelphia Flyers' short-fused goalie having been beaten for a goal, laying on his back in the net, then slugging the camera with his glove when he looked up and saw it staring down at him.

"I told Ron about that years later," Gordon said, Hextall's sheepish look as good an apology as he was going to get.

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