New Englander Steve Babineau has photographed a lot of professional hockey games over the past half century.

The seven seasons during the 1970's that the World Hockey Association  operated as an alternative to and a rival of the National Hockey League, no one captured the history of the upstart league through a lens than Babineau.  Now, for the pleasure of hockey fans, and sports enthusiasts in general, Babineau has put together an outstanding book (ECW Press) - Behind The Lens : The World Hockey Association 50 Years Later.

Behind The Lens offers 235 pages of many of hockey's biggest stars in color and beautiful black and white images of the highest quality. Hall of Famers as Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Coach Glen Sather, and so many other skaters and goalies who grabbed headlines in sports pages around North America are included in the book.

Along with one-of-a-kind photographs, Babineau, along with writer Brian Codagnone, has squeezed in photos of press passes, tickets, team-issued photos, and program covers from around the WHA.  With their inaugural season of 1972, and their last season of 1978-'79 when four teams (Edmonton, New England, Quebec, and Winnipeg) joined the NHL, no one collected and perserved images of the WHA as Babineau.

Babineau is "The Guy" when it comes to capturing hockey history with a camera.

Take a guess who shot the photograph of "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky that appears on his rookie 1979 Topps trading card?  Yep. Babineau.

Behind the Lens by Steve Babineau (Author), Brian Codagnone (Author). ECW Press for TSM
Behind the Lens by Steve Babineau (Author), Brian Codagnone (Author). ECW Press for TSM
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Growing up a hockey fan in the 1960's in the Boston area during the days of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito ruling the Bruins at Boston Garden and pretty much the rest of the NHL,  Babineau still sounds excited when remembering his hometown team winning the 1970-'71 Stanley Cup.  From being a fan, when being able to select from the three teams skating at the Garden in the '70s ( Bruins, New England Whalers, Boston Braves of the  American Hockey League), armed with a camera, Babineau wanted to move down to the lower bowl to shoot his favorite players.

When the WHA Whalers came to "Beantown", Babineau purchased a seven-game ticket plan, with his seat being in the balcony.  From sitting behind the goal, former NHL standouts now WHA top draws as Ted Green Johnny McKenzie, Bobby Hull, and Derek Sanderson, these stars were ripe for Babineau to snatch on film.

" I remember looking in The Hockey News (when it was in newspaper form), and they had no WHA game-action photos," recalled Babineau during a recent telephone conversation.   "I contacted the editor, and reminded him that (The Hockey News) was using publicity stills only of the WHA."

So, during a time when their were long-distance charges when making a phone call out of your area code, Babineau's mother gave her hockey-starved son $3.00 to use for his call to Montreal - the home office of The Hockey News.  After speaking with the editor, action shots of WHA players were requested.  Immediately, Babineau set up a dark room in his bathroom, created several photographs, and sent them off to Montreal.

Weeks later, a friend came over to Babineau's home and showed him the latest copy of The Hockey News.  Two of his photographs appeared in print, for which Babineau was paid the grand sum of $2.50 for each.  A press pass soon followed, and he began shooting at ice level for the sport's most trusted publication.  Along with purchasing "better cameras and lenses", Babineau would no long need to purchase tickets to hockey games.

"I next started shooting for the Bruins. In 1976 I also began photographing the players for Topps.  Next, my photographs were appearing in Hockey Digest, which led in 1976 to me contributing to Baseball Digest.  For 42 years I shot for the Boston Red Sox.  It's been 49 years for me with the Bruins," say Babineau.

BABINEAU for TSM
BABINEAU for TSM
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No photographer has been continuously photographing professional hockey in North American than Babineau.

Aside from his work with Topps, for 14 years Babineau photographed players for another card company - Fleer.

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In 2007 the NHL purchased 225,000 images from Babineau. The game's history, caught through the lenses of Babineau, will be preserved forever. When searching Getty Images sports editorial, you will find 47,000 pictures popping up that were shot by Babineau.  The WHA images remain property of Babineau.

The only three WHA teams that Babineau didn't see in-person to photograph were the Calgary Cowboys, Ottawa Civic, and Baltimore Blades.

Behind The Lense was a two-year project for Babineau.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX
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Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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