Get the latest from Women's Hockey Life straight to your inbox

WHL Academy

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

Commemorating a championship team while adding fresh perspective to one of hockey’s burgeoning rivalries, Heather Pollock’s creative ambitions bring about a revered brilliance. Welcoming the victorious members of the 2018 Clarkson Cup champion Markham Thunder, along with the most iconic competitor in the history of the Toronto Furies, the aura of The Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club was populated by a group of wondrous women whose careers make them inspiring victors regardless of the final score.

With the boxing ring serving as the focal point of Pollock’s current endeavors, it transformed the women of hockey into multi-faceted personalities, combining an Amazonian intensity with an athletic grace. Undeniably, their talented sporting skills allowed them to easily transition into the vigorous perception that Pollock wished to conceive.

Among the five women of the Markham Thunder on-hand for Pollock’s shoot, there was certainly a strong sense of symbolism with the presence of Dania Simmonds. As the 2017-18 CWHL season wound down, Simmonds tied the league’s record for most consecutive games played. Proudly adopting the sobriquet, “Iron Woman of the CWHL”, Simmonds has quickly developed a cult following among the league’s fan base, her durability and dependability truly encompassing the focus of Pollock’s magnificent shoot.

“I absolutely love working with Heather and being a part of her elaborate photo shoot ideas. The boxing ring photos were completely different than anything I have done before, so it was really interesting to attempt to look and act like a boxer while in full hockey gear!

I am sure this has not been done before, so I really loved putting on the boxing gloves and contributing to something new with my teammates, led by an incredible photographer.”

Pollock’s work is not only entertaining, incorporating a fascinating creative insight, the boxing ring becomes a blank slate, where any antagonism between the Thunder and the Furies is distilled, then reoriented into a compelling visual. The aspects of pugilism present new possibilities, as she transforms the women of hockey through her lens, conceiving expansive emotions in the flawless execution of her creative ambitions.

With a legacy entrenched as both co-founder and all-time winningest goaltender for the Toronto Furies, Sami Jo Small is truly the heartbeat of the club. Approaching the game with a determination that certainly mirrors the objectives of Pollock’s desire to create something meaningful, the chance for such luminaries to work together and collaborate in a distinct yet exciting forum brought with it an air of suitability, and a unique opportunity to commemorate the closing of an epic chapter for Small, ready to see her career evolve.

Approaching the upcoming campaign in a new role, taking on the mantle of executive as the General Manager of the Furies, the chance to work with Pollock not only immortalized Small in the sharp blue jersey that defined the last eight seasons of her professional career, the result was an imaginative farewell, one in which Small certainly praises Pollock’s peerless efforts,

“I have always loved working with Heather and her imagination and creativity are so impressive. She works hard on the details but lets the shoot unfold whimsically so the "models" always feel comfortable and involved in the process. She is simply a remarkable photographer and it was an honour to work with her. I do not have a favourite (photo), they are all so different.”

During the initial planning of the boxing shoot, Pollock was in communication with Liz Knox, the other goaltender vividly featured in said shoot. In a season that saw Knox become the all-time winningest goaltender in the history of the Thunder, the chance to work with Pollock in the aftermath served as the ideal compliment. With Pollock utilizing roughly two months of preparation time, she recalled how a conversation with Knox involved an element of coincidence, one that would eventually serve as a defining characteristic of the shoot.

“Back in January, I sent out some potential dates for the shoot, and the list included Friday March 23rd. Knox wrote back, ‘The 23rd is Clarkson Cup weekend and we hope to be there.’ The Thunder then went on to win seven straight games – 10, if you include the playoff games against Montreal and then the championship against Kunlun Red Star. She sure called that one. What an amazing run.”

Although the Thunder did capture the first championship in the history of the CWHL, when they were based in their original home of Brampton, as Molly Engstrom scored the overtime winning goal against the Mississauga Chiefs, such an achievement would sadly prove to have reversing effects. While no one can dispute their place in history as the league’s first-ever champions, a feat achieved in 2008, the conundrum is based in the fact that the team’s impact, with due deference, is almost lost in time.

Taking into account that the first-ever Clarkson Cup Finals took place one year later, with the Montreal Stars facing off against the Minnesota Whitecaps, it supplanted past championships, including the long running Esso Women’s Nationals and the prestigious Abby Hoffman Cup as the biggest prize in elite hockey, altering the competitive landscape. Although the Thunder would qualify for the Cup finals in 2010 and 2012, their championship from 2008 quickly faded into the backdrop, a cruel and sad irony for such a group of accomplished competitors.

With the Thunder relocating east from Brampton to the York Region municipality of Markham, Ontario for the 2017-18 season, the feeling of “firsts” repeated itself. During the club’s inaugural season in Markham, one filled with a series of exciting milestones, it also coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Thunder’s last championship season. Battling their way into the Clarkson Cup finals for the first time in six years, such a run of momentum resulted in a thrilling outcome that bordered on fate.

Challenging the expansion Kunlun Red Star, a roster that boasted its own impressive firsts. Highlighted by the achievements of two world-class players, Noora Raty becoming the first European-born competitor to capture the CWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, while forward Kelli Stack emerged as the first American to win the Angela James Bowl, these two contributors produced a fascinating season that ran parallel to the achievements of the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion franchise.

Contested at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, home of the eventual 2018 Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies, the venue would crown one team’s magical season in CWHL play. Although Stack placed her name on the scoresheet for the Red Star, while Raty assembled a valiant effort, it was third generation skater Laura Stacey who shone in the spotlight. Scoring the overtime clinching goal to provide the Thunder with its first-ever Cup, it was a victorious effort that held multiple connotations.

Worth noting, Lori Dupuis, Allyson Fox and Vicky Sunohara, members of the 2008 champions were in attendance, adding an element of both heritage and motivation. The unprecedented Cup win not only connected two generations of champions, adding relevance to the 2008 triumph, along with prior conquests at the Esso Women’s Nationals, it supplied tremendous emotion for Pollock. As the vaunted Cup made an appearance in the boxing ring, it brought Pollock’s journey with the Thunder during the 2017-18 season full circle.

“I was at the Clarkson Cup championship game at Ricoh Coliseum, and I was on the ice taking photos after they won. The joy on their faces as they passed the cup around was fantastic. There were some truly beautiful moments when one player would pass it to another. Tears. Laughter. A deep look in the eye that you just know had a lifetime of stories about pain and triumph and injury and sacrifice and friendship in it. I loved being a photographic fly on the wall for that. Quite magical.”

Symbolically, the Cup represented a proud sense of achievement for Pollock. Having photographed the Thunder prior to their opening faceoff, introducing the team’s new and vibrant green color scheme, along with its highly popular M-logo, the jubilation of the Cup supplied a storybook ending for Pollock, whose contributions through her pre-season portfolio of images served as an essential jumping-on point for new fans.  

Heading into the post-season, the boxing theme images which involved the in-ring mêlée between goaltenders Small and Knox were among the most creative and compelling in Pollock’s portfolio. Their antagonistic pugilism was enhanced by one photo, showing a defeated Small on the canvas while a bloodied and exhausted Knox, valiantly lifts the trophy over her head, emblematic of her arduous six-year wait to return to one of the game’s biggest stages.

Grateful at the privileged chance to feature the Cup in her creative outlet, an accoutrement that beautified a shadowy backdrop, Pollock was astounded by the kind gesture bestowed upon her, as the Markham players brought the treasured trophy along for the shoot. Throughout the creative process, Pollock displayed a highly graceful decorum in her approach towards the presence of the Cup, respecting its legacy serving as a crucial component.

“It was so great of the Thunder players to bring it! I loved having the Cup at the shoot. Weirdly enough, I did not want to touch it, though. It was in the back of my mind that it is an honour reserved for those who earn it.”

Among the group of captains for the Thunder that gathered at centre ice when the Cup was awarded in the euphoric postgame ceremony, Kristen Richards was proud to present Pollock a treasured audience with the artifact. Considering that Richards supplied many creative ideas during the pre-season shoot with Pollock, contributing towards an iconic collaboration that set an exciting tone in the season to unfold, there was definitely a strong sense of sharing in the journey towards the Cup with a highly creative and valued individual.  

“Part of what makes winning the Clarkson Cup so special is sharing it with the people who have been supporters since Day 1. To be able to work with her again and bring the trophy with us was really something.”

Possessing a conceptual intelligence, this represents a watershed work for Pollock. Such a series of images, when arranged sequentially, weaves a tapestry where sporting figures clash, and the cumulative effect is highly potent, strengthening yet redefining an already intense rivalry.

Although the theme of hockey certainly circles back, there is a profound inwardness, stretching beyond the game itself. Juxtaposed in a creative outlet, fertile with empowering and intriguing connotations, the women of hockey have emerged as Pollock’s signature athletic work. While the shared love of the game is a constant between artist and subject, the unique contrast is that the rink does not constitute the canvas. Improvising an alternate scene, the profound results speak for themselves, as these wondrous women are more than just a compelling muse, they become the focal point of a dazzling display which encompasses a much more powerful setting, magnifying both scope and strength.

“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/


Avatar

More about Mark Staffieri