Why NHL’s Blue Jackets’ support of Ohio State women’s hockey matters — Justin Berl on photographing hockey history — Must-click women’s hockey links
The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, March 18, 2022
Welcome to Hockey Friday. As always, I’ve got some thoughts on the state of things. Though last Saturday might have been one of the first times the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets live-tweeted a game other than their own, the team’s support of women’s hockey — and especially of the Division I Ohio State program less than two miles down the road — isn’t new.
“You could say as the Blue Jackets brand grew in the city, so did women’s hockey and we united a community around hockey in Ohio,” said Andee Cochren, the Blue Jackets’ Director of Fan Development, in an interview with The IX. “As the [Ohio State women’s hockey] program grew stronger, it was important that we continued to tell their story to our fans.”
The Blue Jackets have been incredibly vocal in their support of their collegiate neighbors, from feature articles appearing on NHL.com to live-Tweeting the Buckeyes’ thrilling double-overtime win against Quinnipiac in the NCAA Regionals. Earlier in the season, the Jackets even welcomed the Ohio State team to Nationwide Arena for their annual “Hockey is for Her” night, where the players were honored with a shoutout and invited to help out at a clinic earlier in the day.
Blue Jackets fans were loving it too, with many tuning into the free stream on NCAA.com and expressing their amazement not only for Ohio State, but also for Quinnipiac netminder Corinne Schroeder’s 73-save performance and that of her teammates, too.
The Blue Jackets have been all aboard the Sophie Jaques-for-Patty Kazmaier Award train as well, which only gained momentum when Jaques was named one of the Top-3 Finalists for the award Thursday. Jaques was the subject of another NHL.com feature by Blue Jackets staff writer Jeff Svoboda, and everyone in Columbus seems to be rooting for her to become just the second defender to take home the prestigious Patty Kaz.
“Putting women’s hockey in front of our fans … shows young girls and women that this sport is also for us,” said Cochren. “Additionally, more fans means more attendees at games, media coverage and overall community support which helps funding the sport for women.”
And more funding the sport for women is definitely important for the Buckeyes, who currently play out of the 1,000-seat OSU Ice Rink, an arena that has long since been considered to be one of the — if not the — worst in D-I women’s college hockey. From the netting to the camera angles to the sight lines from the stands, the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes undoubtedly deserve better, and more eyes on the sport means the potential for more funding, as Cochren suggested.
But it goes beyond just money, as these types of things always do. While I am firmly in the camp of believing professional women’s hockey doesn’t need the NHL to succeed or to thrive, that doesn’t mean that support like that of the Blue Jackets shouldn’t be appreciated or celebrated. What the Blue Jackets are doing is exposing hundreds of their fans in the Columbus community and outside of central Ohio to an entirely new side of the sport that they might not have been familiar with.
After all, isn’t growing the game — and making it more accessible — what hockey is about?
“As the sport among girls and women continues to grow, it puts a spotlight on the gaps that exist within the development pathway. Additional resources are needed to help young girls navigate the system. When professional brands can amplify these stories, that is how awareness and meaningful change can begin.”
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Five at the IX: Justin Berl
The IX sat down to chat with Pittsburgh-based sports photographer Justin Berl, who has made his mark as team photographer for Robert Morris’ program and as somewhat of a hockey historian.
Question: Tell me a little bit about what this past weekend photographing the PWHPA’s Rivalry Rematch was like in Pittsburgh — was the game as intense as it was hyped up to be?
Justin Berl: As soon as I heard that the event was scheduled I reached out to Getty Images about being able to shoot it. I was assigned a photo spot that would have Canada attacking towards me in the first period, then the USA in the second. For the 3rd, I was able to split the period in half with someone so I shot Canada’s attack for a few minutes and then moved down to the US attack end. Once overtime came to pass, I said to myself, “I’m heading upstairs to be able to get both teams.” That was the perfect move since [Marie-Philip Poulin] obviously scored the winner down the other end of the ice from where I would have been.
Early in the game you could see the teams were a little tired still with it being only about two weeks since the Gold Medal game, but things really started to open up as the game progressed. And in the final 5 or so minutes of regulation the pace went up a couple notches. The crowd was engaged and really showed how much Pittsburgh supports Women’s Hockey.
Q: What has been your favorite event to shoot, and what level of women’s hockey do you think is your favorite to shoot?
Berl: My favorite event I’ve shot is tough to choose but I’d probably say the 2021 CHA Tournament; being the Robert Morris team photographer for the last few years I’ve documented a lot of their games but to see the team use 3 goalies in 3 games to win the title just holds a special place in my heart. I didn’t have my usual access to the team due to COVID so I had to improvise my coverage, which meant a lot of shooting overhead and not from the photo holes at the Erie Insurance Arena where the tournament was held. The girls understood about the access limits I had so when they received the CHA Trophy, Anjelica Diffendal grabbed the trophy and skated over to the side of the arena I was shooting from to make sure that I was able to get the shots I needed for the team.
I can’t really decide on what level I like the most, I just love to shoot hockey. Like so far this year I’ve photographed Prep School Women’s Hockey, NCAA Women’s Hockey, a PHF game and the PWHPA Rivalry Rematch along with some NHL games. I played Roller and Ice Hockey growing up in New York City and like I said I just love hockey.
Q: You’ve photographed so many high-level competitions over the past several years, including as a team photographer at the NCAA D-I level for Robert Morris’ hockey programs. What has it been like to document the journeys of so many elite athletes?
Berl: It’s been a wild ride the last 5 years since I started shooting women’s hockey on a regular basis. In those 5 years, I’ve been the Robert Morris team photographer and had other freelance gigs where I’ve shot stuff like USA/Canada Training Camp after the Four Nations Cup was cancelled in 2019 and in 2021, and also this coming weekend I’ll be the lead photographer for the NCAA at the Women’s Frozen Four. Documenting Wisconsin’s win last season was interesting because I was the only photographer allowed to be on the ice for the celebration, so I had a front row seat to history which is really cool. I’m honored to be asked by my clients to document the history of the women’s game.
Q: You play a pivotal role in documenting women’s hockey history. Have you ever thought about that aspect of your work, or do you prefer to take it day by day?
Berl: I think about my role a lot; and I see myself as a little bit of a historian as well as a photographer. I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with former RMU player and assistant coach Chelsea Walkland, who’s now an assistant coach at Colgate. She told me that she doesn’t have very many photos from her playing days. After hearing that I said to myself, “I need to document as much as possible,” whether it be through my time as the Robert Morris team photographer or through one of the many freelance gigs that I do because these moments matter. They matter to the players, families, the schools, the fans, etc.
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