Written By: Bill Syken
In 2022 Amanda J. Cain became the first Black woman ever to work as a team photographer in the NHL when she took a job with the San Jose Sharks. Before joining the Sharks she had worked at Purdue University and Eastern Kentucky University, and her shooting background is diverse, with a portfolio that includes not just sports but music, portraiture and more. You can read more about her journey and her love of photography in this interview.
LIFE asked Ms. Cain to look through LIFE’s photo archives and select a handful of her favorite hockey photos, all of which come from the old days when the NHL only had six teams and players rarely wore helmets. “Before this I hadn’t really looked back at older photos from the 1960’s and earlier, and as I was looking through the Life.com archive I discovered some really neat images which caught my eye,” she said.
Here are Amanda’s favorite LIFE hockey photos, along with her commentary explaining the appeal of each image.
“This photo tells the story of Jacques Plante, the first goalie to regularly wear a mask—which he began doing in 1959 to protect his injured nose. In this picture I like the way his masks are situated in the background. Obviously they weren’t as well crafted as the masks of today, but that, along with the uniqueness of Jacques Plante’s posture and smile after getting stitches in his nose makes the balance of this photo work well.”
“In this photo, featuring the legendary Bobby Hull on the left, the composition is so well balanced. The lines of the referee’s shirt and the faintness of the crowd in the background help draw your eye into the picture. This moment in the fight isn’t showy, but it is real, and the non-emotion from the players suggests these are two practiced pugilists about to have at it. Really great art in my opinion.”
“The action without the puck. The action without it being the height of the action. I call pictures like this one from a 1963 Bruins-Blackhawks game creative images. Exactly what’s happening is a little bit of a mystery, which I like. Sometimes pictures are more fun when you have to use your imagination and piece the moment together on your own.”
“The character of this photo is truly amazing. The reflections in the glass, the fact that you can see the figure skate in the window—it makes for a great scene. There is so much creative chaos. I would love to know what these young hockey players are saying to each other.”
“I’m a sucker for photos with a great backdrop, and this picture of the U.S. taking on the Swiss at the 1948 Winter Olympics in Saint Moritz is a perfect example. I always love seeing hockey being played outdoors in the elements to begin with; having the Swiss Alps in the background makes this picture immensely enjoyable.”
“What a great shot, especially with the puck placement. I can’t imagine shooting hockey with the camera technology of the 1950’s, and getting the puck in the frame is stellar. I also love the expression on the face of the legendary Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion.”
“The enjoyable relaxing moments of athletes are so surreal. I mean how many times do we actually get to capture these quiet moments. The image’s composition invites me into the player reading a book and having a cigar. While it probably wasn’t rare back in the day, this photo seems like a special moment.”
For more of Amanda Cain’s work, see her website.