With the Thunder, one of the CWHL’s charter teams, now calling Markham home, an influential figure emphasized a creative flair that helped to positively shape the team’s new look during the off-season. Capturing a sensational team spirit behind her lens, Heather Pollock created a stunning yet captivating portfolio featuring several of Markham’s pioneering players.
This gathering of compelling talent included goaltender Liz Knox and blueliner Dania Simmonds, who are both in their sixth seasons with the Thunder franchise. Joined by teammates Jamie Lee Rattray and Kristen Richards, who would both join Simmonds as alternate captains for the Thunder heading into this season. As a side note, Rattray and Richards were teammates on the Toronto Shamrocks, capturing the 2015 CBHA National Championship.
“Within days of each other, I had two photographer friends ask me what I was shooting for fun. I did not really have an answer. Don’t get me wrong—my job is generally really fun—but I had not shot anything just for the sake of "creating" for far too long. I started pondering some ideas for a "personal project", and the thought of doing some unique shots with dynamic female hockey players seemed particularly interesting to me.”
Richards was also a creative force, devising a concept for the photo shoot, brilliantly executed by Pollock. Inspired by the strong spirit of friendship between these four fantastic women, which definitely showed in the final product, Pollock’s vision embodied the current zeitgeist in the female game, in which unity and cohesiveness are setting the foundation for an exciting future to unfold.
“Kristen Richards, Liz Knox, Dania Simmonds, Jamie Lee Rattray — those ladies are an absolute blast. Their hockey camaraderie is palpable. It was great to be in the midst of that energy.
I have a four year old daughter, and several times throughout the shoot I thought to myself that I would be so happy for her to be surrounded and influenced by these women and others like them. And in turn, down the road, to influence others in the same way.”
Among the unique highlights of such a captivating and animated photo shoot, the depiction of these frozen, female gladiators in a bloodied yet stoic state paid tribute to a different time in the game. Reflecting the personality of ice hockey in the 1970s, a dynastic time supplemented by rapid expansion, it was a time that also featured some of the game’s most infamous yet compelling fights.
Complemented by a film that captured the mood of that era, which incorporated a tinge of irony, carnal humor and a flippant levity, “Slap Shot”, a 1977 release, remains one of the most famous sports movies ever made. While Paul Newman’s character of Reggie Dunlop was apparently based on John Brophy, who accumulated over 4000 penalty minutes in the Eastern Hockey League, and became an eventual coach with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the film’s lasting legacy saw players Jeff and Steve Carlson, plus David Hanson propelled into popular culture as the “Hanson Brothers”.
While there is no question that the women of hockey are graceful and dignified, helping challenge cultural convention through their athletic abilities, the chance to depict them in another facet, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, shows a playful yet intriguing side, which Pollock brilliantly captured behind her lens. Reflecting on the project, the sense of team spirit rises to the surface, graciously recognizing the titanic presence in front and behind the camera,
“Well, I will take credit for the idea (it was an homage to the Hanson Brothers and Jacques Plante), but it is the fully-committed facial expressions and body language of the players that make it work. It simply would not have translated without their engagement.
It was particularly amusing when someone would say something funny and they’d break character.
Two special effects make-up artists came to the studio to work their magic: Misty Fox and Emily O’Quinn did a fantastic job. The players looked awesomely gross. One by one they’d walk out of the make-up room all bloodied up and I had small internal freak-out every time.”
With the Thunder starting a new chapter in Markham, Pollock’s amazing photos help commemorate this ground-breaking time. While said photos featured numerous concepts, highlighted by different backdrops, there was also a unique “urban” element, with the side of a building adorned in spray paint, highlighted by the newly minted Markham logo.
Resembling the type of creative graffiti during the 1970s and 1980s of New York, Richards was the muse for this series of photos, emphasizing her creative input. Adding to the urban theme was the addition of Richards on a skateboard. Coincidentally, it extended the essence of teamwork between Richards and Pollock, as both also played together on the ice during a fundraising hockey tournament hosted by the Thunder.
“The timing was purely coincidental, but it is nice that it worked out like that. I first contacted Kristen in May or June about the idea of these photos, quite some time before I knew about the move to Markham.
I met her while playing in the Thunder’s annual "Funda" tournament. She was one of the pros on the team I played on and she was a hoot. Kristen did all the work pulling the Thunder players together. She was a huge help and she’s a damn good sport.
It is pretty fantastic when you send a random weird note about fake blood and broken noses and photos to someone who barely knows you and their response is ‘I would absolutely love to help’.
Once I found out about the move to Markham, though, I asked a mural artist (Monica Wickeler) to spray-paint the new logo on a friend’s building and we had some photographic fun with Kristen.”
The feeling of fun also continued with Liz Knox, whose self-effacing approach added a tremendous levity to a remarkable portfolio. Displaying her astonishing physical ability, contorting her toned physique in pretzel-like fashion, her good nature was also highlighted by an amusing photo shoot which recognized one of the funniest sitcoms ever.
Through it all, the series of photo shoots represented a radiant yet brilliant labour of love, which helped set the tone for an historic yet sensation season of elite hockey in Markham, with the arrival of the Thunder. Simultaneously, said shoot heralded the arrival of Pollock, raising the already impressive profile of her work, while introducing her to a new legion of fans.
“It was also pretty amusing to be able to ask Knox things likes "Can you bend over backwards and rest your head on the ground?" and the next thing you know she’s staring up at me, upside-down, pretzel-ed. My unbelievably talented young cousin, Maegan Carmichael was my assistant for the day and it was wonderful to spend creative time with her. A friend showed up with cold beverages. We shot a quick nod to the iconic Seinfeld Kramer/George photoshoot. Rattray showed me how to "boomerang" with Instagram.
I managed to avoid hitting anyone with overhead lights. I ate pizza. Explosions were kept to a minimum (avoided completely, actually). No one got a parking ticket. Basically I enjoyed all of it.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Funda image by Jess Bazal, All other images supplied by Heather Pollock