If the walls of the homes of the NY Islanders could talk, the stories they would tell. Unfortunately, we will never know what they would say - however, the lens of long-time NHL photographer Bruce Bennett allows us to visualize the first 50 years of Islanders hockey.
In his nearly 50-year career, Bennett has captured some of hockey's most iconic images. Part of more than 40 Stanley Cup-deciding games, Bennett has seen it all while allowing us to see exactly what he sees perched up on his swiveling stool in the corner of the ice.
Bennett began photographing hockey back during the 1973-74 season. Attending a game in the Isles' third season at Nassau Coliseum, Bennett and his cousin snuck into the arena's photo box, where he would fire off as many shots as possible. He would send his photo's to The Hockey News in Montreal hoping they would purchase some of his work. From there, his career began to take flight.
"They got me a press pass the following season," says Bennett in an exclusive interview with Eyes On Isles. "From that point forward, I'm shooting hockey pictures for a living."
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Bennett began his professional career during the 74-75 season, with his work appearing in The Hockey News, Action Sports Hockey, and Hockey Digest.
In 1982, the Islanders were looking to make a change in team photographers. Earning an interview with the team, Bennett was worried he would be passed on by the new head of public relations but seemed to have left an impression with a significant figure within the organization.
"I said to him, 'where did you get my name?' and he said, 'Bill Torrey suggested I contact you,' and I was like, OK, that works!"
Bennett built a quick relationship with Torrey even though he feared his career with the Islanders would be short-lived after an early interaction with 'The Architect.'
During Bennett's first season with the Isles, he prepared for the team's annual headshots. "I mean, I was new at doing all this stuff. I set up my lights and my umbrellas, and I had a small piece of background paper instead of a big roll, and instead of a big roll of gaffing tape, I had a gaffing tape tied around the paper not to waste much of it," said Bennett.
Fixing the background paper and tape between shots, Bennett's method seemed to be working up until his final subject.
"Sure enough, the last guy to come in is Bill Torrey. At that point, the gaffing tape gave way, and the background paper engulfed him," laughed Bennett. "I was very embarrassed, and he took it well. I didn't get fired, so it was a weird start, but it worked out in the long run."
Across almost fives decades in the NHL, Bennett has shot at every arena, including the three homes of the Islanders. Each building has its differences structurally and gives off a different aesthetic depending on where the shots are coming from.
Bennett has also been a team photographer for the NY Rangers, NJ Devils, and the Philadelphia Flyers over the years and says his favorite places to shoot are his "home" arenas.
"Being part of Getty Images, we get really good treatment from the teams because of our deal with the NHL. It's just kind of odd that my favorite arenas are where I shoot normally," says Bennett. "It just seems wherever I go around the NHL, you're just put into some really uncomfortable photo positions to shoot in. Dirty arenas, you know, older arenas where they don't clean as well. You know, I won't name any, but I don't know. Really my three home arenas, Islanders, Rangers, and Devils, that I'm in weekly are gold. I mean, I know how to get around in there comfortably."