China Wong stood braced with her lens against the glass and her fingers touching the shutter. Her settings were perfect, and she trusted that she’d be ready for the moment when University of New Hampshire (UNH) Men’s Hockey would celebrate scoring a goal against Northeastern.
Suddenly, UNH Hockey player #22 Ara Nazarian shot the puck past Northeastern’s goalkeeper.
With the biggest burst of excitement, he turned right, skating right towards Wong. Even at rink level, tall male hockey players flying on their skates, didn’t discern Wong’s confident 5-foot-6-inch stature.
Wong locked into the viewfinder and pressed down on the shutter hoping at least one of almost 2,000 total images from the event came out clear. In the blink of an eye, Nazarian was face to face with her camera.
“I remember getting this terrible feeling and I knew something was wrong,” the 22-year-old producer of digital and social media for the Springfield Thunderbirds hockey team said.
At the exact moment Nazarian gave her the ideal frame, Wong’s Nikon D610 “froze under pressure,” she said.
Wong was disappointed in not getting “the shot” from the 2017 Frozen Fenway game between UNH and Northeastern, the night the diamond transitions to an ice hockey arena. Yet Wong’s dedication and hard work while studying at UNH allowed her to move forward and become not just a professional photographer but the official photographer for the Thunderbirds as well.
Besides being an avid dog-lover and the creator of the @DogzofDurham Instagram page, Wong held three formal photographer positions on campus as a full-time student studying journalism. As a staff photographer for The New Hampshire newspaper, the Communications and Public Affairs team (CPA) and the Athletics Department, she said endured long hours and sacrificed a lot of her social life at UNH.
At large campus events like the annual White Out the Whitt hockey game against UMaine, Wong covered action on the ice and off in an arena of over 7,000 (More than five times smaller than the audience at Fenway). Wong said she photographed almost every team at UNH and most of her weekends revolved around different athletic events.
In 2014, within her first week as a first-year student at UNH, Wong attended an introductory meeting for TNH. From there she continued to pick up the camera for events all around campus. Despite having no experience photographing athletics, Wong chose sports as her main focus.
“Honestly I didn’t even know how to use a camera without using the auto-setting,” she said. To increase her experiences and portfolio, Wong also took advantage of many non-athletic events that challenged her skills, like former President Barack Obama’s visit to the Durham campus in November 2016.
“Every weekend was jam packed with different sporting events and not only did I have to shoot them, but I also had to go back and edit them afterwards,” said Wong.
“She isn’t afraid to take chances and work hard for the opportunities in front of her,” Jeremy Gasowski, producer and photo/video content creator at CPA, said. CPA could only choose one photographer from their entire staff to cover Frozen Fenway. Gasowski chose to send Wong.
Wong considers Gasowski as one of her “biggest inspirations.”
“She rocked it!” Gasowski said. He said that Wong’s success at UNH and beyond came from her ability to be critiqued, create strong relationships, and her willingness to learn and put in the work.
In the summer following her graduation from UNH, an online opportunity to intern for the Thunderbirds as their game day photographer appeared. Wong didn’t hesitate to apply. Within a month, Wong was accepted into the program.
During her time as an unpaid intern, a paid position opened up for graphics and photo/video editing. Without knowledge on graphic design or video editing, Wong’s passion for learning as an intern did not go unnoticed by her team of colleagues.
President Nate Costa of the Thunderbirds called her into his office to give her an interview for the full-time position.
Wong recalled the moment when Costa said she fit “into [the] office so well and I really want to reward you for all of the hard work that you’ve put in.”
Costa rewrote the producer’s role to fit Wong.
“I know you’re not qualified for the producer position, but I’d rather hire someone who wants to be here and is passionate about this team,” Costa said.
Since sixth grade, Wong said she knew she wanted her “life path to lead to the world of sports.” She said growing up as a fan of the Boston teams and Pittsburgh Penguins emphasized how passionate she was about athletics.
Inspired by her mother, who is also a photographer, Wong said that she picked up a camera at a young age, not realizing how passionate she would later become. Now, a professional photographer herself, Wong said she feels like capturing special moments in athletes’ lives are what she thrives on.
Less than a year after graduating from UNH, Wong is a full-time photographer for a professional hockey team. She is no longer walking to and from class, but rather driving herself from her home in Northampton, MA to work or travelling with the Thunderbirds on their bus to away games.
Since the end of January, she has had approximately six days off total.
With the plan to stay full-time with the Thunderbirds for another year as a producer, she said she hopes to go one step further and “make it the NHL one day.”
Wong even got a taste of life in the NHL. On March 30, Wong worked with the Florida Panthers’ media team during their game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. She said this game gave her an extreme confidence and proved her long hours and hard work paid off.
“I am the happiest I have ever been in my life and it’s crazy to think I am just getting started,” she said.