My Experience at the 2017 NCAA DI Men’s Ice Hockey Frozen Four

In April 2017, I got the opportunity to attend the Frozen Four hosted at the United Center (home of the NHL Blackhawks) in Chicago, IL. Let’s start with how I got there.

Practice day at the United Center in Chicago, IL; April 5, 2017. ©Maddie MacFarlane

St. Cloud State’s hockey season had ended in North Dakota a few weeks earlier. I was keeping up with the NCAA bracket, cheering for Dubuque Fighting Saints alum and fellow NCHC teams. The University of Denver Pioneers had made it to the regional finals game and I had my eyes glued to the TV the whole time. There was no question I had chosen the Pios as my pick to win because of my fondness of the team.

DU head coach Jim Montgomery. ©Maddie MacFarlane
Denver Hockey is all about “The Proscess.” ©Maddie MacFarlane

Jim Montgomery, DU’s head coach, had been the head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints USHL team when I worked for them from 2011-2013. He was the head coach of the 2012-13 Clark Cup Championship team that I had the pleasure of being a part of, serving as the team photographer. (That was a hockey season I will never forget.)

Evan Janssen (DU senior) and Dylan Gambrell (DU sophomore) had also been on the Clark Cup roster. Blake Hillman (DU sophomore) and Michael Davies (DU freshman) had played in Dubuque as well during the time I covered the Saints. I wasn’t short on connections, and being the #Saint4Life proponent that I am, I was not short on reasons to be a Denver fan. *Note: player class years are as of the 2016-17 year.

As soon as it was confirmed that Denver would be making their way to Chicago, I started searching through flights, bus schedules, train ride options, hotels, airbnbs, and possible friends in town to stay with. I booked my flight one week before takeoff and found a place to stay with some friends who’d had a house about 20 minutes from the rink. I had never in my life so spontaneously made travel plans, but I knew I would regret not going if I didn’t.

So, I flew from Minnesota to Chicago at 6 a.m. on April 5th to volunteer for a hockey tournament no one had asked me to go to.

University of Denver hockey practice at the United Center; April 5, 2017. ©Maddie MacFarlane

I landed in Chicago, dropped my bags at the house I was staying and went to work. During the past week I had been in contact with Denver’s Sports Information Director to volunteer my time for whatever help was needed. I ended up serving as one of the Pioneer’s team photographers and as a media assistant, posting to DU’s official Instagram and Snapchat accounts throughout the long weekend. Being that the NCHC had two teams in the tournament, I also worked as the league’s appointed photographer.

As an added bonus of the trip, a born and raised Chicago sports fan, I will admit that walking into the United Center to work in that building was pretty surreal. DU was the top seed in the tournament and therefore was granted use of the Blackhawks locker room. I had a brief, wide-eyed moment of awe the first time I stepped into the room, seeing the iconic logo on the floor and the “One Goal” slogan above the stalls. After allowing myself a few minutes of fangirling, I settled in and got to work.

Denver’s setup in the Chicago Blackhawks locker room at the United Center. ©Maddie MacFarlane

Through media day (Wednesday), semifinals game day (Thursday) and championship game day (Saturday), the entire weekend became a blur. Back-and-forth from the rink to the house to the rink and so on. I did manage to find a few hours of sleep, after shooting, editing, posting, and sharing photo albums and checking in with my supervisors for the weekend to see if there was anything I could do next.

The Frozen Four was a 4-day sprint, not a marathon.

Practice for the presentation of the colors. ©Maddie MacFarlane

On Thursday, Denver won the semifinal against Notre Dame 6-1 and would go on to face Minnesota-Duluth for the NCAA championship title. My overall experience working the tournament as a photographer and team media personnel was great. Things were organized and communicated well, photo assignments were timely, the United Center staff was nothing but kind and courteous, and (an essential) the food was good.

I had made myself a small work setup outside of the DU locker room in the hallway – I tend to do this at every tournament I work because media workrooms can be a trek away from getting to ice level shooting positions. And, to be honest, I prefer the quiet and seclusion of having my own work space. (Go figure, having the brutally introverted personality type that I do.) Plus, the table I set my laptop on to do quick edits was also the coffee station. Fresh coffee an arm’s-length away? Perfect.

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, the University of Denver Pioneers won the Frozen Four. It was the program’s eighth NCAA title.

DU defeated Duluth 3-2. I was shooting from behind Denver’s net. As the seconds ticked down in the third period, my smile kept getting bigger and my heart was pounding faster. I wanted to get the bench and reactions as players stormed the ice towards DU’s netminder Tanner Jaillet, throwing their helmets and gloves on the way. I’m glad I stayed there and captured those moments.

Denver’s bench explodes after winning the national championship game 3-2 against the UMD Bulldogs. ©Maddie MacFarlane
DU rushes toward their goaltender in celebration. ©Maddie MacFarlane
That winning feeling. ©Maddie MacFarlane

Then I started running.

Up the stairs, onto the concourse, to the opposite end of the rink, I dodged fans and ran (while letting out a few overly-excited expletives under my breath) until I came to the zamboni door where photographers were asked to wait to get onto the ice for championship photos. I have no idea how long we were on the ice for. My camera was glued to my hand, capturing the moments Denver players first touched the national championship trophy, cut the goal netting from its posts, and celebrated in pure euphoria. They were champions.

2017 D1 Men’s Ice Hockey National Champions, the University of Denver Pioneers. ©Maddie MacFarlane
The @DU_Whiteboard speaks for itself. ©Maddie MacFarlane

Even though I’m not an employee of the Denver Pioneers, or really even have any distinct affiliation with the team, watching them win that game and the ear-to-ear smiles on every player, coach, and staff member that night is something I will never forget. Seeing friends I’ve known for years reach the ultimate goal in college hockey, witnessing the support DU had and the strong culture they’re all about was amazing. I smile as I write about it. The joy on the ice and in the locker room was contagious.

The 2017 senior class of the DU men’s hockey team. ©Maddie MacFarlane

It was a pleasure working with Denver Hockey that week. Everyone I met and interacted with, whether it media personnel, players, coaches, staff, or fans – everyone was so kind and accommodating. It really was a fantastic group of people that I got the fortune of spending those few days with and feeling like an honorary Pio in celebration of hanging eight. I was so proud to be a part of it, thank you.

Instagram-missmaddiemac; April 8, 2017: “Watched and photographed these guys winning a Clark Cup in 2013. Tonight I got to photograph them winning an NCAA national championship.” – A rare occasion in front of the camera; me with Gambrell (left) and Janssen (right) after the game.
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St. Cloud State Men’s Hockey Wears Pink For Breast Cancer Awareness

St. Cloud State University‘s men’s hockey team participated in a Pink The Rink game this past Saturday, October 14. The team played in pink jerseys and held a jersey auction in an effort to help raise awareness and funds for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Central Minnesota in 2017.

The Huskies swept their weekend series against the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a 5-4 OT win on Saturday. It was sophomore forward Nick Poehling with the overtime winner.

See the full photo gallery here.

My First Time Working in an NHL Arena

Over the weekend (Jan. 30-31, 2016), I had my first taste of what working in the rink of a National Hockey League team might be like. St. Cloud State participated in the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN (typically host to the Minnesota Wild), and as a team photographer I had the opportunity to cover the event.

The Xcel Energy Center 1/31/2016
The Xcel Energy Center 1/31/2016

It was a wonderful, but unexpectedly overwhelming experience. The week leading up to the event I had some nerves, but mostly was excited to be alongside my team for just another set of hockey games. Personally, I enjoy shooting road games more than any others throughout the season, and have felt that way since my first season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL. With Dubuque, I would ride the team bus with players and coaches to nearby Iowa arenas. During these times, more than any, is when I truly felt like I was part of the team. It is difficult to describe, because I am not a player, I’m just a photographer, but the hockey community and the teams I have worked for over the years have become only what I can define as a family. On road games, it’s just me and the team/staff hanging out, without any of the home-rink drama or craziness. I could go on for days with all of the things I love about the sport of hockey, the people I’ve met because of it, and the memories it has given me. And I am so grateful for all of it.

For the past year or so my “thing” has been #NHLbound, meaning I am (hopefully) on my way to a career working for a professional hockey team in the NHL. I have been in NHL rinks before, but only to watch games, never to work or cover an event. Walking through the halls of the pressbox and underneath the stands of the rink, the same halls where hockey professionals have worked day in and day out for many seasons (since the opening of the Xcel Center in 2000) was an unreal rush of emotion for me. I had a full on panic attack, shaking and sweating, my mind going a thousand miles a minute, while simultaneously feeling unbelievably happy and inspired to just be standing where I was.

I want this so badly, more than anything. To work in the NHL is my dream, and being in that rink just made the dream feel one step closer. 12642474_10208508810707377_5293235687356610314_n

Holding the North Star Cup after SCSU won the tournament Sunday 1/31/2016
Holding the North Star Cup after SCSU won the tournament Sunday 1/31/2016

Victory at the North Star Cup Tournament for SCSU

The St. Cloud State men’s hockey team won the 2016 North Star College Cup Sunday, January 31. The team advanced to the final game when they defeated Minnesota State-Mankato 5-4 Saturday afternoon, and SCSU took down Bemidji State 5-2 Sunday. The North Star College Cup is an annual tournament held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN in which the Minnesota Division-I college hockey programs compete against each other. SCSU sat out of the tournament last year, so the team was excited to return in full force.

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©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane
Mikey Eyssimont took tournament MVP for St. Cloud State. ©Maddie MacFarlane
Mikey Eyssimont took tournament MVP for St. Cloud State. ©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane
©Maddie MacFarlane

More photos on Maddie MacFarlane Photography Facebook