For the Love of the Game: Alum Living His Dream as Photographer for the Grand Rapids Griffins
Inside Van Andel Arena, the crowd watches with bated breath as their beloved Griffins struggle for victory in the closing seconds of overtime. Everyone is clamoring for what happens next, yet no one in the rink besides Sam Iannamico is ready for it.
With opposing players seemingly draped on his back, star forward Teemu Pulkkinen calmly searches for an opening to shoot the puck. The frenzied fans urge him towards the seemingly impossible, a miracle. Time slows to a meaningless crawl as the delirium in the stands reaches a fever pitch. Pulkinen raises his stick high, and with a graceful ferocity unleashes a slap shot over the goalie’s outstretched frame and into the net.
There are 0.8 seconds left - the crowd goes wild. And Iannamico can’t hide his smile behind his camera as he captures it all, frame-by-frame.
Griffins forward Teemu Pulkkinen celebrates an overtime-winning goal (image courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins/Sam Iannamico)
Ask the KCAD alum (‘14, Photography) what it’s like to photograph one of the world’s fastest sports for a living and he’ll tell you it’s a dream come true. “I am a huge hockey fan,” he says. “I grew up playing roller hockey since I was 11-12 years old and also played ice hockey on the pond during the winter. Of course, my favorite team was and still is the Detroit Red Wings, so working for their [minor league] affiliate team is an awesome feeling.”
Iannamico (right) hanging out with Griffins forward Mitch Callahan (center) and assistant equipment manager Andrew Stegehuis (image courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins/Sam Iannamico)
After spending last season in an internship position with the Griffins (and helping the team earn its second straight Digital Media Award from the American Hockey League), Iannamico was recently promoted to a full-time role as the team photographer. While Pulkkinen’s now legendary overtime-winning goal may be the highlight of Iannamico’s career thus far, his job is to photograph the moments of magic – both big and small – that occur each and every game. Whether it’s a glass-quaking body check, a highlight reel goal, or just an expression of unadulterated joy on a hockey fan’s face, he has to be ready for anything.
“The biggest challenge is capturing the right moments,” he says. “In the studio, I could set up the exact shot I wanted by moving lights around and getting that perfect camera angle; I can't do that shooting live sports. But I like the challenge of thinking on the fly and shooting a fast-paced sport like hockey.”
Griffins defenseman Brian Lashoff hits the ice (image courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins/Sam Iannamico)
Still, as a diehard hockey fan, Iannamico says he’s had to learn the hard way to never stop shooting. “I can recall more times than I can count where I've missed moments because I was watching the game.” From the start of warm-ups to the final buzzer, he’s on the prowl for the best action on the ice, in the crowd, and during intermissions, when fans play wacky games like inflatable musical chairs and mascots launch hot dogs and t-shirts into the stands from slingshots and air cannons. It’s all part of what makes a Griffins game a special experience, and it’s Iannamico’s job to tell that story through images.
The camera Iannamico shoots with has built-in Wi-Fi, so at each intermission he meets with his boss to cull the best shots for real-time sharing on social media. After the game it’s up to the editing suite, where he selects 30-40 images out of everything he’s shot during the game, edits them in Lightroom, and uploads them for sharing on social media that same evening.
(above): No action is too mundane for Iannamico - this striking shot of goalie Tomas McCollum was taken during warm-ups; (below): Iannamico captures one of Pulkkinen's signature slapshots mid-flight (images courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins/Sam Iannamico)
But it isn’t all work - at the same time Iannamico is cataloging prized moments and memories for the team, he’s also making his own.
“I've only been with the team for one season and I have so many favorite moments,” he says. “Teemu Pulkkinen’s overtime winner was unforgettable, and this offseason I was invited to make the trip to Detroit for the press conference announcing [former Griffins coach] Jeff Blashill as the new head coach of the Red Wings. I didn't really realize how special it was until it was over. Growing up a Red Wings fan, I always loved going to Joe Louis Arena and watching them play. But being in that building and watching the press conference live was awesome. I'm lucky to be with the Griffins and have opportunities like that.”
Griffin's forward Mark Zengerle and the crowd go wild after a goal (image courtesy of the Grand Rapids Griffins/Sam Iannamico)
If he couldn’t shoot hockey games, Iannamico would love to satisfy his need for speed photographing the even faster sport of Formula 1 racing. But for now he says he’s content to slow down and enjoy life working with the sport he loves.
“I definitely want to stick with the Griffins for a few seasons at least, because I love Grand Rapids and I love hockey, so what more could I ask for? My future with the Griffins will help me get to where I want to be: a photographer in the NHL. Without a doubt I know my experience will help me kick start my goal.”
See more of Sam Iannamico on Instagram (@sam_iannamico)