A Love That Runs Deep

My love for Penn State hockey runs deep.  Very deep.  It stems from my 4 years of doing radio play-by-play for the men’s club team during my college days, calling 2 national championships along the way.

When you work with a team, you spend a ton of time with them.  You travel with them, kill a lot of time at a hotel or rink waiting for games to start, and hours upon hours upon hours on buses just getting to the games.  Ultimately you form a little family.  Even supporting staff like myself form a bond with the team – naturally not as deep as if you were a player yourself – but a bond nonetheless.

For years and years, the Penn State hockey family knew we had what it would take to become a scholarship varsity team and the community to support it.  The one thing we didn’t have was enough money. Funding was needed to build a new facility and seed endowments for scholarships and other costs, so we’re not talking chump change.

Then lo and behold… that dream came true in 2010 when the Pegula family made a massive donation to Penn State to make Penn State varsity hockey – for both the men’s and women’s teams – a reality!  That donation provided everything PSU needed to build that new arena and put the supporting pieces in place to get the teams on their way.

The team started varsity play with the 2012-2013 season, so we were able to make the trip to to PSU for a handful of games that first year.  Heading to PSU for a hockey weekend – for either club or varsity play – always provided a nice excuse for us to get away.  The games were always good and slipping away just for a weekend gave us the quick change of scenery that we often needed.

During those weekend trips to see games, we watched the Pegula Ice Arena take shape.  We saw it go from a parking lot, to a hole in the ground, to a steel skeleton, to its shiny glass and brick facade.  We simply couldn’t wait to get inside for a game!  But then we had a little hiccup with those plans – we moved to Colorado…

We left Pennsylvania in July 2013 and the new barn opened in October 2013, almost 3 months to the day after we moved out west permanently.  (Figures!)  Living 1500 miles away from State College instead of just 170 made getting to games a tad more involved, so we hadn’t been back since the move… until this fall!  Even though we had to delay the trip a couple of times, it was so worth it!

As chance would have it, a friend of mine from back in my play-calling days still works with the team (lucky!). Turned out he was going to be at the rink for meetings during the first day of our stay, so he offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour.  He knew I’d be floored by the new facility compared to our old one.  He was so right!

To say I was amazed is a massive understatement!  Walking through the doors of the building for the first time was one thing.  Going out into the seats to see the rink for the first time was a little overwhelming.  So many feelings stirred seeing that this pipe dream is now an everyday reality for PSU. It’s hard to find words to describe all of the emotions that hit me.

My First Look at Pegula

I kept myself together through all of those emotions (yes!) and the tour was awesome!!  The facilities available to the athletes are stunning.  The technology improvements alone in terms of tracking your training and the different tools available blew me away.

Our seats for the weekend series of games were rinkside along the boards, so my friend took us up to the last row of the student section – now called “The Roar Zone” – to check out the view.  (In my day, the student section was simply called “Section E”, named after the seating section where the students sat.)  The Roar Zone was designed so it has the steepest incline allowable by building codes, making it very imposing to the visiting goaltender that guards that net in the 1st & 3rd periods of each game.  It also means the acoustics help the student chants and taunts rain down even harder on the guest netminder.  (Well done!)

The steepness is no joke, but once we got up there, the view was just something I wanted to soak in.  Since it was a non-gameday afternoon, the rink was empty.  It gave me a chance to get a little beauty shot of an empty arena (though I wasn’t able to get the shot with a freshly-zamboni’d surface to make it look shiny and new).  Can’t complain though!

Imposing Student Section

There’s a bunch of great displays around the concourse of the arena featuring all kinds of PSU hockey history.  There’s a display showing every guy and gal who wore every number for the PSU teams during both the club and varsity eras.  There’s a bunch of interactive displays were folks can dive into the team histories in more detail.  And of course there’s other memorabilia exhibits along the way featuring sticks, skates, sweaters, moments in program history, and so on.

My favorite display might be the one I have a teensy personal connection to – the rink board that a bunch of the hockey family signed to commemorate the elevation to varsity and the dawn of the new era for Penn State hockey.  I was lucky enough to sign that board years ago, so there’s a little piece of me in the new building even when I can’t be there in person.

Signed It

The last stop of the tour involved seeing some hardware… the B1G Conference Championship trophy we won in 2017.  Our first!  (That conference championship was a bit of a surprise/upset win t’boot.)  I never thought I’d live to see our hockey teams be elevated to varsity status, so seeing the trophy was another one of those little surreal moments for me.

Hardware

I wanted to get more pictures of the trophy, but that photo session was interrupted because the men’s head coach happened to come down the hall and my friend introduced us to him.  It was very cool to finally meet the coach after all of these years.  For having just met someone with a connection to PSU hockey’s history (little though it may have been), he was great with us.  In those few minutes we chatted with him, I could easily see how the guys on the team would skate through a wall for him and why he’s been able to make the men’s program such a success so quickly.

Getting that tour was more than we ever could have asked for on this trip!  (Thanks again to my friend – you know who you are!)  It was an absolutely fabulous way to start our hockey weekend, and the games were yet to come!

The weekend slate of games were set for Friday and Saturday night.  I didn’t take too many pictures during the games since I was too busy cheering and going wild.  And naturally, our seats were “terrible”.  (Sarcasm fully intended.)  It’s been a long time since I got to get that excited in-person at a PSU hockey game, and I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it!

Terrible Seats for the Game

Penn State won one game and lost the other one in overtime, so a good result in spite of us being in the building.  (Whenever we attend games of teams that we love, we’re usually a huge jinx and they lose when we’re in the building.)  We even saw one of the most amazing goals I’ve ever seen in person at a game – so good it made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays that night and was ultimately their #2 play for all of November!!

I’d say our hockey-centric Penn State trip was a roaring success!!  (Pun intended?  Yeah, at least this time anyway.)

We Are!!

– JC

 

Fall… It’s Been Too Long

The one time each year we miss living in Pennsylvania is during the fall.  Autumn in Colorado is beautiful – don’t get me wrong – but it’s very one-toned.  And that tone is yellow.  So many of the trees native to the area – especially the aspens up high in the mountains – turn yellow.  While it’s pretty, it gets a little boring compared to the vibrant mix of hues in the northeast that we grew up enjoying.

With the passing of our dog earlier in 2018 (sob, sniff), we had an opportunity to take a long-delayed trip back to Pennsylvania to catch some autumn colors and see some Penn State hockey.  We hadn’t been back to central Pennsylvania since we left 5 years ago and we were incredibly anxious to get back.

Our trip was planned for early November based on the hockey schedule (more on that coming in a separate post), so we knew we might miss the fall foliage.  Luckily for us, the unusually cold and wet fall weather delayed the leaves changing color!  Score for us!!  The drive out to Penn State was gorgeous, bursting with reds and oranges and browns (and yes, even some yellows).  Although the sun was setting by the time we landed and got on the road, it was still sublime to see after being away for so long.

Though the main purpose of our trip revolved around the hockey games, we had tons of time to walk around Penn State and State College.  The fall scenery in town and around campus was wonderful to see again.  (Things on campus and in town changed A LOT since we were last there.) . We had hoped to go do some hiking in the hills, but the murky weather forecast foiled our hiking plans before we even got on the plane.  Bummer.

To keep my packing light, I only had my phone with me to take pictures.  That wasn’t hard to deal with.  The biggest challenge for me was dealing with iffy weather and lighting the entire time we were outside.  With that, I still bagged a few shots that reminded me of how much we love fall up there.

I snagged an updated shot of the campus bench I randomly captured back in fall of 2009.  I think it may have even been the same bench on campus!  (Why I remember these details, I have no idea.)

When we spent the night in State College during our drive out to Colorado for the move, the Nittany Lion Shrine was under construction.  The platform under the statue and the surrounding area were being spruced up and we couldn’t access the area.  Naturally, I had to get an updated shot during this trip now that the work is long since done.  Things got a little tricky because, just as we walked up, a class of students arrived and were all around.  I couldn’t really get into grabbing the interesting shots I normally try to get for variety in my collection, but no big.  We were just happy to be there!

The Lion Looms

One day we had some time to hit the campus arboretum.  The arboretum is new in the eons since we graduated, and it’s expanded quite a bit since our last visit.

With the crappy weather and lighting, a lot of my shots didn’t come out as I had hoped, but I did come home with one favorite.  I think the cairns were my favorite shot because we see so many useful cairns while hiking in Colorado – along with not-so-useful/random cairns people stack to be cute along a trail.  At least here there’s no risk of being misdirected into the wilderness by someone playing with stacks of rock!

Arboretum Cairns

We didn’t see a lot of sun during our trip (very typical of PSU weather), but it did finally make a brief appearance one morning after breakfast.  The sun was in and out and fleeting at best.  I lucked out that we happened to be walking by Old Main when the sun did appear and I got a couple of shots of the compass statue I’ve always liked.

It was so nice getting back to see fall scenery the way we so fondly remember it.  Hopefully it won’t be 5+ years between trips next time!

– JC

Foggy Drama

(Originally posted November 5, 2012)

Foggy Morning - Valley Forge NHP
Foggy Morning – Valley Forge NHP

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… and that was certainly the case on this steamy August morning when I grabbed this shot at Valley Forge National Historic Park!

Things were lining up perfectly for a foggy, sticky sunrise shoot on an early August morning, so I made a last-minute call the night before to go for it.  The day started with a 4:30am wake-up to get myself and the gear together so I could arrive at the park, find my location, and get setup by 5:30 or so to catch the first rays of sunlight as they split through the trees and the valley.  The nearly-full moon was going to be setting within an hour of the sunrise too!  Sounds like a recipe for some good pictures, right?  Well, life had some different thoughts on the matter.

I dragged my sleepy body, cup of coffee, and my camera gear into the car.  Then I turned the key in the ignition – nothing.  Absolutely nothing from the car.  No lights, no turning of the engine, no clicking.  Just silence.  Not good.

Thinking of ditching the shoot and just heading back to bed was certainly an option, but my husband let me borrow his car for the morning so I could get on with my day.  Wonderful – problem solved, and quite easily.  After a quick switch of vehicles, I was frustrated and wondering what was up with my car, but I put that in the back of my mind and headed off to the park.

As I arrived at the park entrance in the darkness and thick fog, the gates were still closed with nary a sign of life that they would be opening anytime soon.  Dang it!  I’ve gotten sunrise shots in the park before during the winter without problems – I just needed to figure out how to get in for today’s shoot.  With nowhere to put the car, I headed down the street to the local casino (of all places) knowing that I could park there in a well-lit area and do some research on my phone.  That’s when I remembered that the park doesn’t open until 7am – not at dawn.  Double dang it!!  Clearly, the fog wasn’t only outside of the car because it seems I needed more coffee or more sleep.

After this latest blip, I was determined to get some kind of session in because the fog was making the scenery really eerie and that couldn’t be passed up.  The park is big, with some main state roads going through it, so I figured there had to be a way in.  I drove around a bit more and managed to find a parking area along one of the main public drags that would suffice, so off I trekked to see if I could find something good.

It wasn’t long after I setup that I came upon this scene behind the Maurice Stephens house.  The tree and the fog in the valley certainly play a big part in the scene, though I think the thing I like most about this shot is the little optical illusion I was able to create.  On a quick glance, some may think that the structure next to the tree is a small house or a cottage.  It’s not – it’s a chicken coop or some kind of colonial shed structure!  The way it was positioned next to the tree made the building look smaller than it was (or the tree look bigger than it actually is).  Quite a lovely surprise!

So, with this shot and a few others tucked away, I returned home to start working on my car troubles.  It turns out it was – thankfully – just a dead battery.  It was so dead that the first time we jumped it, it only kept the car running for about 500 feet before it lost power again and we had to get it towed to our mechanic!  After a bumpy start to the day, it all worked out with a couple of fantastic summer shots in Valley Forge and a minor car repair bill.  Phew!!

– JC

PS – We were extremely fortunate and only sustained a little minor damage during Hurricane Sandy, so our lives returned to normal quite quickly.  Others were far, far less fortunate, and we here at Alpha Pup Photography are sending out our thoughts and prayers to everyone – both along the coastlines and in the mountains that were pummeled with snow – who have lost so much and face a long road to recovery.

The 4th of July, Some Rain, a Bridge, & a Happy Accident

(Originally posted October 22, 2012)

Under the Gay Street Bridge - Phoenixville, PA
Under the Gay Street Bridge – Phoenixville, PA

Now that the Schuylkill River Highlands Association show is over, I can share the two images that were included in the show!  The picture of The Colonial Theater was quite popular at the show (it’s the theater where the original version of “The Blob” was filmed), it’s this shot of the Gay Street Bridge has a better story to share because of circumstances and happy accidents.

Since we had a really busy summer schedule, there wasn’t much time available to set out on some shooting sessions in the Schuylkill River Watershed to prepare for the show and the last-minute invite I got, so I used the restored downtown area of Phoenixville as my inspiration.  I had always wanted to shoot the steelwork of the reconstructed Gay Street bridge, but never had a chance to… and this was my chance… at sunrise on July 4th!

Alas, the sun wasn’t cooperative that day.  As daylight began to break, there was very little of it because it was cloudy and raining.  Sure, it made for less than ideal situation, but the bridge provided some cover.  (My husband came with me and we brought our dog, so she loved dragging him around sniffing along the trail and the creek underneath the bridge in the light rain!)

Even though the scene wasn’t what I had hoped, I took my shots, only reasonably pleased with what I came home with.  As I processed my shots the next day, I started to play around with some techniques that combine several images of different exposures into one and can make a shot look really cool or really awful.  My results were somewhere in between.

So… I continued playing with the images.  I made it understated.  I changed it to black & white.  I changed it back to color.  I reprocessed it with different settings.  And again with yet different settings.  I exaggerated it.  Still, nothing grabbed me.

Then I decided to take a really, really over-exaggerated color shot and twist it into black & white… and found what I had been looking for all along!  I think I almost fell out of my chair I was so pleasantly surprised by the result of that experiment!  The glow the processing had given to the bridge – the glow I had hoped to get when the sun came up – was back, and with some funky dramatic license!!

I think I learned a few lessons with this shot.  First, the world of photography is wonderful in that you can play and play and play around with a shot and try some really fun things – you just need to try things out and sometimes odd combinations really do work well together.  Second, the weather hardly ever cooperates when you really, really, really want it to (or need it to).  And last – and definitely not least – it’s simply awesome to have a supportive husband who will get up with you at the edge of dawn on a holiday, wrangle the dog, and serve as a watch/bodyguard so I can do these fun and creative things at weird hours in all kinds of locations!

 

-JC

Youthful Daisies

(Originally posted October 5, 2012)

Purple & White Daisies
Purple & White Daisies

I always think of daisies in general as cheery or happy flowers.  This picture reminds me of some flattery too…

A few years ago, my husband was thinking of pursuing a PhD in his field and Penn State has the top-ranked Geography department in the country.  What better excuse than that to take a long weekend in State College, PA during the fall!?

My husband had a bunch of meetings with the Geography folks during the day, so that set me free to spend an entire day taking pictures to my heart’s content downtown and on campus.

I snagged this shot of the late-blooming daisies on the west side of campus near Rec Hall and the Nittany Lion Shrine.  Knowing I’d be trekking all over the place, I was dressed comfortably and my short hair was in pigtails to keep it out of the camera’s way.  (Hats + camera usually don’t work well for me.)

While taking this shot of the daisies and other things in that part of campus, an older gentleman stopped and asked if I was working on a class project.  If only!  I explained that it was just a hobby (as it was at the time) and I was getting a break from my usual daily grind.  That’s when the said that he thought I was a student, thus his inquiry.  Considering I was on the other side of 30 at the time, he made my day!  I probably didn’t thank him nearly enough for mistaking me for a student!!

So, this little photo session was fantastic on two levels – I got a lot of great shots that day and someone thought I looked young enough to still be a PSU student.  Outstanding!!  Now the trick will be to keep that youthful mojo going for the long haul.  I think my photography will go a long way towards keeping me young.

 

-JC