03 July, 2018

Heather Pollock Combines Creative Elements of Pugilism into One of Hockey's Biggest Rivalries (Part One)



Incorporating a blend of pugilism, with both gravitas and bravura, on-ice rivalries were renewed in a unique setting as the gladiators of the rink adopted a unique persona. Conceived by Heather Pollock, the results add an exciting visual chapter to the Battle of Toronto, masterfully capturing yet reinventing said battle.

Featuring players from all positions, ranging from the enigmatic goaltender, to the stoic yet skilled blueliner, the assembly of forwards includes a unique group of archetypes. From a gifted scorer, to an iron woman, and the strong, silent type, all contribute towards the narrative of Pollock’s vision having a compelling fluidity.

Taking on a new dimension with an exciting motif in the aftermath of the season, the outlet for Pollock’s creative ingenuity was executed in The Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. Serving as the backdrop for a stirring portfolio which saw boxing and hockey intersect in a unique facet, she was grateful for the hospitality of Savoy Howe, who operates the gym in a managerial capacity. Exposing raw emotions in its purest form, the dark background in the gymnasium at The Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club has a meditative feel to it, allowing for a focus on the aesthetic.

Notable women in the ring such as Mia St. John, Holly Holm (who would also capture a women’s championship in UFC) and Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields have shattered stereotypes, heralding a new chapter for women in sports. Taking on a traditionally male-dominated field while reimagining the role of women from ring girls to prize fighters, their ground breaking influence has mirrored the quantum leap of women’s ice hockey, as both are validated by their empowering status as Olympic sports. Indubitably, such status made an impression on Pollock, serving as the catalyst for her concept,

“These athletes are warriors every time they step on the ice. I liked the idea of playing with that theme, especially with goalies. They battle each other, they battle the other team, and at times they probably battle their own self-doubt.

I cannot say enough about how everyone committed to it. It must be really weird for folks to show up at boxing gym, get into full hockey gear, and pretend to be fighting, but every player was great. When I first got in touch with Kristen Richards about the concept, her response was, ‘Nothing like a little GTA rivalry in a boxing ring.’ They have a tremendous sense of fun.”

Worth noting, Pollock’s stunning portfolio bookended the new-look Markham Thunder’s 2017-18 season, one that culminated with the first Clarkson Cup championship in franchise history. Prior to the Thunder’s opening faceoff for 2017-18, the fantastic foursome of Liz Knox, Jamie Lee Rattray, Kristen Richards and Dania Simmonds appeared in front of Pollock’s lens.

Having produced a brilliant series of images featuring the aforementioned foursome, the portfolio was crucial in helping provide the Thunder with a strong footing in their new home. Helping introduce an exciting brand for women’s ice hockey, heralding the arrival of the Markham Thunder in its iconic green and white colors, abandoning its traditional colors of red, black and later silver, this stunning makeover allowed Pollock a remarkable channel to focus her artistic and inventive energies.

With a gathering of such strong women, the outcome of the preseason shoot was a collection of photos destined to be treasured. One photo from that shoot, involving stern and intimidating appearances, bloodied appearances including black-rimmed glasses paid homage to the Hanson Brothers, foreshadowing the further creativity to come. Upon the revelation that Pollock would do a second shoot, the boxing theme was one that certainly made an impression on Richards,

“Heather is by far the most creative person I know. As soon as she started talking about the boxing theme I knew it would result in something special. The results speak for themselves. We have never looked so tough!”

Fittingly, the aforementioned were back in front of Pollock’s lens, part of a gathering of wondrous women which also included Megan Bozek and legendary goaltender Sami Jo Small. Worth noting, Bozek, an alum of the US National Team first began her CWHL career calling Small a teammate with the Toronto Furies. Both participants in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, there was a feeling of full circle as both were reunited in the ring, albeit in different colors.

Among the photos that Small appeared in, perhaps the most notable and compelling involved exchanging blows with fellow goaltender Liz Knox. Having both worn Canada’s jersey for international play, they displayed a fascinating authenticity. While the presence of a player from another team certainly provided a different dynamic to the shoot, the theme that emerged for Pollock was a combination of amusing enjoyment and tremendous excitement, proud to have an iconic and legendary figure in front of her lens.

“Modern legend indeed! Sami Jo is an icon. She is one of the greatest goalies to play the game, a co-founder of the CWHL, and easily one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

I really enjoyed having the element of competition between the two different teams. The boxing brawl shots with Sami and Liz Knox were hilarious to shoot. I could not stop laughing. It was tough for them to keep a straight face while trying to look so intense. Some of my favourite shots from the day are the two of them just cracking up.”

Graceful, articulate and generous, Small’s legacy in the game involves so many unique facets, including an integral role as the Furies co-founder, complemented by an on-ice body of work highlighted by her standing as the CWHL’s all-time wins leader. Having also stood between the pipes for the Thunder a generation ago, Small enjoyed the exhilaration of scoring a goal, a rarity for any goaltender.

Surely, Small’s career shall always evoke a certain type of warm nostalgia, commemorating a pioneering time for the game’s growth, while her kind and generous demeanor represents the living embodiment of said time. In discussing the portrayal of donning boxing gloves, challenging Knox in a titanic struggle that was captured with precision by Pollock, Small’s humble demeanor rises to the surface.  

“I have a great deal of respect for Liz and everything she's accomplished and done for women's hockey. But it was hard for me to be portrayed as a "fighter", when that image does not represent my true character.

However, I fully embraced the part and used my limited acting and boxing skills to try to conjure up the images Heather was looking for in her shots.”

With a fanciful experimentation, the visual result sees Small’s gentle beauty taking on an unexpected brutality, as Knox suffers an onslaught of intense blows to full effect. Such an effect also includes the compelling reimagining of one of the most powerful and popular sporting images of the 20th Century. Standing over an exhausted Knox, gloating victoriously, it mirrored Neil Leifer’s photo of Muhammad Ali convincingly knocking out challenger Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine, affirming his status as world champion.

Yet, such an image did not mimic Leifer’s photographic masterpiece. Instead, it channeled a powerful spirit, calling to attention a concentrated fusion where hockey and boxing collide, calling to attention what these wondrous women can be transformed into. In a tinge of irony, that photo was hanging on the wall behind the victorious Furies backstop.

Although Knox was on the receiving end of the knockout blow, playing the role of defeated fighter brilliantly, any animosity portrayed in the ring is not a reflection of the mutual respect that defines their roles as two revered backstops that have helped contribute towards establish the essence of the modern game.

“If you have ever met Sami Jo, you know she is one of the kindest people that walks this earth. It was a lot easier being her target than the other way around.

She was one of the goalies that I really looked up to when I was a kid and someone who helped me through my development in the national program. I tried not to let my admiration for her shine through, but, Heather did an amazing job getting shots of us in character.”

Adding to the intrigue of the photos between these goaltending greats was the fact that they were accompanied by a trophy that has become an artifact unto itself. Having both enjoyed the prestige of capturing the Clarkson Cup in their careers, the famed prize enjoyed a presence in the boxing ring too.

It was a fitting presence as both Knox and Small have left their legacies with the Cup. Back in 2014, Small enjoyed the privilege of a Cup victory with the Furies, one that assured her a place in hockey immortality. Along with teammates Tessa Bonhomme and Natalie Spooner, they became members of the Triple Gold Club for Women, while Spooner became the first player to capture Winter Games gold and the Clarkson in the same year.

Also leaving her place in championship lore, one that saw Knox became the first rookie goaltender to appear in a Cup final, backstopping the former Brampton Thunder to the big game back in the spring of 2012, the path towards an elusive championship was one built on patience. Having waited six years for the chance to finally return to one of the grandest stages in women’s ice hockey and victoriously hoist it over her head represented a tremendous sense of pride. Duplicating that feat by hoisting it again in a boxing ring was something that was not conceivable just a few weeks ago,

“I did not honestly know if I would ever be photographed with the Clarkson Cup outside of its home in the HHOF (laughs). Yet, honestly, we were so fortunate to have the Cup with us for that shoot. It is a gorgeous piece of hardware with a really cool history, so I was happy that Heather was able to get some good shots with it.”

Considering that the Clarkson Cup is gradually gaining the same luster as the Stanley Cup, the latter is also mirroring another unique legacy. Like Lord Stanley’s Mug (which has been at the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool, traveled to Red Square in Moscow, and enjoyed an audience at the White House with multiple Presidents), the revered Clarkson is also appearing in the unlikeliest of places, amassing a tremendous travelogue that runs parallel to its growing legend.

In addition to the Cup becoming one of Pollock’s subjects, it also travelled to the base of Mount Everest this year, joined by the recipient of the 2018 CWHL Humanitarian of the Year Award. Worth noting, the Cup was also part of an empowering experience this year in Ottawa, as the Thunder enjoyed the privilege of meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Generating tremendous cultural currency, it also signified the first time that a Clarkson Cup championship team enjoyed the honor of an audience with a sitting PM, testament to the game’s growing importance.

That same sense of empowerment also encompasses this portfolio, one which represents an expansion into Pollock’s creative growth. Similar to how Sami Jo Small was part of a group of hockey heroines that inspired an entire generation of young women to make their own mark on the ice, Pollock’s labors have taken on its own inspiration.

While the role of women as hockey players is rightfully ingrained in the game’s cultural fabric, a legacy affirmed and enhanced through competition at the Winter Games, the next frontier involves women taking on an even bigger role off the ice. Certainly, Pollock’s portrayals of these fearless, frozen females serves as a catalyst to augment the creative influence, sparking the opportunity for women to pursue other facets of the game.

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Heather Pollock

To learn more about The Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, please visit:   http://torontonewsgirls.com/

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