Chase Agnello-Dean has covered three Stanley Cups, 10 years of Chicago Blackhawks history, and countless game-winning goals. But in 2020, he captured a season unlike any other.
This summer, Chase was tapped to run photo operations in the NHL’s Toronto bubble. He and his small team of photographers were responsible for covering all 12 teams, with three games a day, as well as creating behind the scenes content of players relaxing and playing spike ball. For 50 days, his life revolved around hockey – and daily COVID tests.
After the remaining teams moved to Edmonton for the Stanley Cup playoffs (congrats to our friends over at the Tampa Bay Lightning on winning the championship!) and Chase left the fenced-in bubble for the first time in almost two months, we asked him to give us an inside look at this historic season in an AMA. Join our creative community on Slack to see the full conversation, and check out the highlights below. Big thanks to Chase, and our amazing community members for these great questions!
Yoav: What was the process of joining the bubble, getting various access, connecting with players and teams inside the bubble?
Chase: Joining the bubble was intense. Before we all arrived, everyone had to have three negative COVID tests in 7 days along with all the necessary paper work and visa stamps to be able to cross into Canada since the borders are still limited to essential travel. Once we arrived, I was able to touch base with a lot of the PR folks I know from working with the NHL for the last 11 years. Once everyone figured out who to reach out to we were off and running.
Jennifer: Knowing teams didn’t have their full staff in the bubble, did you have to take on a larger role in regards to content creation, editing, posting to social media outlets, etc.?
Chase: Luckily, each team was required to bring a digital person as part of their 52 person traveling party and they handles all fo the social posting or passed things through PR people to the correct social folks. As for editing, we have an amazing pair of photo editors that edit for us each day. Rebecca How and Victor Decolongon. We just helped the teams capture the content they need and provided it when asked.
Also before I forget Mark Blinch was the other shooter with me in Toronto – he is the Maple Leafs team guy… an extremely talented shooter and a wonderful human being. I could not have found better person/photographer to be in the bubble with for that long.
Ethan: Did you find the controlled environment easier to manage or was it more difficult with safety restrictions to capture what you needed? i.e. required getting more creative with your shots
Chase: I am going to say yes and no. Not having fans made moving around easier and gave us an opportunity to place remote cameras in spots that normally would have blocked fans. On the other hand all of the camera folks TV and the two still guys had to play the 6ft spacing game that limited our shooting positions along the glass, but we all understood what was at stake and wanted to do it as safely as possible while still being able to get the best content.
I think a prime example of putting a camera where it would not normally be is something like this. At the Scotiabank Arena this would normally be a fans lap. I can’t imagine if they were paying for glass seats they would want this add on.
Matthew: Since you were living Groundhog Day for over a month, did you have a daily shot list?
Chase: The very nice folks NHL images would compile a list of photo needs daily that matched up with stories that NHL.com may be working on or what the trading card companies needed. After that I would check in with the Team PR/Social folks before each game to see if they had extra things and then with the game presentation folks.
Adam: Were there any obligations for capturing sponsor imagery while in the bubble?
Chase: Sponsors make the world go round. We shot a ton of content from dasherboards, to hotel signage and Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. It was always in the back of our minds when shooting arrivals or players around the arena.
Sam: Are there any new things, remote positions, workflow, etc. that you might have experimented with in the bubble that you’ll implement into your normal process when things (hopefully) go back to normal?
Chase: The short answer is yes. From a remote position every building is different, but there are some angles we tried that I will try to find a comparable angle at the United Center. From a workflow side of things, I used live ingest in Photo Mechanic before never really liked the feel of it. I think this taught me that I need to be more patient and trust the tools to do what they are supposed to do. Also probably going to run miles of network cable so I never have to go get a card out of a remote again 🙂
Matthew: Curious what is access to players is like behind the scenes?
Chase: Access depended on the team and which locker room they were in. With teams playing every other day for a month, everyone was in a routine and we tried not to disrupt it, but for the most part teams were fairly easy to deal with because they understood the importance of access.
Agnes: What are your top 3 takeaways from working in the bubble?
Chase: Oh three takeaways. 1 is the mental aspect. It is a WEIRD environment and you have to be prepared to trapped for as long as it takes. You might get a little Stockholm syndrome, but thats ok. 2. you can’t be everywhere all the time. You have to take care of yourself. 3. If you have it, bring it. Those extra cords that you never thought you would use…toss them in your bag. Make sure you have extras of everything. With everyone able to order from amazon to the hotel packages were taking a very long time to arrive.
Want more BTS hockey content?
Join our creative community on Slack to catch up on the full conversation and stay tuned for the next AMA. Plus, check out our Behind the Scenes with the Storytellers video with Chase and get an inside look at his full photo workflow. And, if you can’t get enough hockey content, check out our on-demand webinar with Chase and Vegas Golden Knights team photographer Jeff Bottari.