From a young age, Kelly Shea ’20 had one of two things in her hand: a hockey stick or a camera.
BY SETH DUSSAULT ’11, MEd ’15 :: PHOTOS BY KELLY SHEA '20
“I started playing hockey when I was ten years old in Holyoke. My dad and my grandpa both played, so I grew up immersed in the sport,” she said. As for photography, she notes, “When I was little, my parents bought me a digital camera. It was a small point-and-shoot that I could fit into my pocket. I brought it everywhere. As a kid, it was an outlet of creativity.”
Those two passions have served Shea well and set her up for a career as a professional sports photographer
Even at a young age, her list of accomplishments is deep. She has shot All-Star Games for the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Premier Hockey Federation (then the National Women’s Hockey League).
She has worked for several AHL teams, and in 2020, she won a Boston Press Photographer’s Association award for an action shot taken during that time.
“Honestly, that photo was just a regular part of a game for me! The few games prior, I had been capturing photos with no real variation, so I wanted to change things up. I sat directly above the net in the catwalks for half of the period. Each time I saw the goalie react or a player come into frame, I took a photo,” she said.
Many of the skills that make Shea an elite photographer were honed right at AIC. She gave the College’s Visual and Digital Arts program a glowing review.
“AIC was the only school that had the type of program I was looking for. I wanted a program that would allow me to build my own major within the creative field. The Visual and Digital Arts program was perfect for that because after all of the thousand-level courses, most of the course offerings were electives. This allowed me to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Digital Arts and minors in photography and communications,” she said.
It also gave her the opportunity to work directly with AIC’s Athletic Communications office, where she shot not just home games, but hit the road with the ice hockey team to capture moments on the road against conference rivals like Sacred Heart University, as well as nonleague foes like the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. Her work, in turn, enhanced the office’s ability to promote the hockey team.
“Kelly is not only an amazing photographer and excellent coworker, she's a great person who was always there for you when you needed someone. Her work ethic was unmatched in how she always stepped up even if she wasn’t asked to. She took the initiative to always be the best and to put her best foot forward. There are very few people in this industry that I would follow anywhere but Kelly is one those people,” said Summer Dutton, the Athletic Communications graduate assistant who designs the majority of the graphics for the office.
S hea’s love of hockey was not lost on any members of the team, either. The players and coaches appreciated both her work and knowledge of the game itself.
That holds especially true for Assistant Coach Patrick Tabb ’03. The AIC alum had coached Shea himself when she was younger, noting that she was one of the first female players in his Friday night league at the Olympia Ice Center, in West Springfield, MA.
“I could tell at a young age, coaching her in a summer league, that her passion and understanding of the game rivaled any player I had, and she went on to coach in that league. She’s a fixture in the hockey community; it’s not uncommon for me to see her at a local arena coaching a youth team in the morning, then working at the MassMutual Center that night,” he noted.
As to the impact on AIC Hockey, Tabb said, “Her works raises the level of professionalism of our program, and is something our players appreciate today and will for a lifetime—some day, they can share the moments she’s captured with their grandchildren.”
It makes sense that playing the game and shooting the game have blended well for Shea. Sports photography is in many ways no different than the game itself. Shea has her routines—and even her superstitions.
AIC ATHLETICS IS AN ORGANIZATION THAT I’LL FOREVER CHERISH BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN IT.”
“The night before, I always make sure my batteries are charged, my cards are empty, and my bag is packed accordingly with my media pass attached to it. I always get a coffee on my way—it’s like my own little superstition. From there, I arrive to the arena a few hours before game time to set up my computer and photograph warm-ups,” she said.
And like the athletes, she spends a lot of time moving quickly. As she put it, “The game itself generally flies by. Between running to all of the photo locations, tracking all of the plays, and covering all of the extracurriculars, I sometimes forget to breathe!”
The effort is worth it in the end, however, as the hours of prep and hours of work yield treasures in the form of photos, forever capturing moments as memories. One such special memory was the Atlantic Hockey Championship in 2021, which Shea got to shoot as the Yellow Jackets defended their league crown on home ice at the MassMutual Center.
After capturing the game and the celebration behind the camera, Shea even got to share in a special moment of her own—lifting the Jack Riley Memorial Trophy at center ice. For once, somebody else took the picture.
“That was my senior year of college and my career had been building for the few previous years through internship opportunities, so it felt like such the perfect way to end my time in college. The thing that made it so surreal was being able to hold it next to all of the amazing people who work in the Athletics department; I would not be where I am in my career without them … AIC Athletics is an organization that I’ll forever cherish because of the people involved in it,” she said, noting specifically the Athletic Communications staff that includes Dutton and Director of Athletic Communications Thomas Pool.
Shea’s future is bright, and she’s keeping her options open. “Right now, I am hunting for photography jobs within the sports industry and looking at some options for grad school,” she noted.
Whatever those next steps are, one thing is certain: it will continue to be picture perfect.