Cannondale get the 1-2 in Edmonton in Stage 3 of the @TourofAlberta #TOA17 @Ride_Argyle

Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac) wins Stage 3 of the Tour of Alberta 2017 in Edmonton ahead of Wouter Wippert (Cannondale-Drapac) and Colin Joyce (Rally Cycling).
© J. Ashley Nixon

Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac) hung on to his lead from the top of the last climb to go over the finish line first at Windsor Park, Edmonton on Sunday. It was the second consecutive win for his team in the 2017 Tour of Alberta. His team mate, Wouter Wippert, who won yesterday’s stage in Spruce Grove, came in close behind to take second place. Colin Joyce (Rally) picked up the third podium spot.

The peloton stayed together for the first few rounds of the 11 lap circuit that began close to the University of Alberta then headed down to the North Saskatchewan River and north through the city before looping back. A breakaway group of five riders including Nigel Ellsay (Silber Pro Cycling) got away and held their lead until the penultimate lap before being picked up by the bunch.

Howes talked about his team’s race strategy after his win: “We wanted to make it an aggressive race and beat up on Rally a bit, then we missed the break. But we knew Wouter (Wippert) was the best guy out there so we wanted to do a good sprint for him.”

Howes added: “A lot of the guys were pretty gassed at the top (of the final climb) and he (Wippert) yelled at me to go.” said Howes. “I had a little gap and just kept rolling it. He ran in second and I think he just basically let me win”

Overall lead in the tour remains with Evan Huffman of Rally Cycling, with a small cushion of 18 seconds ahead of his team-mate, Sepp Kuss. Howes moves into third place in the general classification (GC) with his team-mate Tom-Jelte Slagter in fourth. It looks like the fourth and final stage of the 546 km road race which goes around the streets of Edmonton again on Monday is poised for a USA team battle between Cannondale-Drapac and Rally.

Posted in Alberta, Canada, Cycling, Photography, Sports, Sports photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arya the Airedale: a celebration of life

Arya the Airedale on the Elbow River, Griffith Woods, Calgary, Canada (Aug 26, 2017).
© J. Ashley Nixon

Arya the Airedale (2013-2017)

Arya became a big part of our lives just a few weeks after she was born on April 17, 2013. Sadly, she died from renal failure yesterday morning at 10:00 am. A tragic, premature death that gave us all heavier hearts than we could ever have imagined. There was, perhaps some comfort to us four humans in her family that we could be with her, hold her and see her through the gate to her new K-9 adventures. 

She was a real Yorkshire character, carefully named after the most compelling character in The Game of Thrones, Arya Stark. Independent; her own boss; an insatiable chewer of furniture and shoes when a puppy. These were all traits in this fun-loving and giving dog. 

She managed to graduate from puppy training at PetSmart and possessed a nice way of shaking paws in exchange for treats. Obedience wasn’t one of her strengths though and her circus trick of swallowing small pebbles only to sick them back up hours later was, to be fair, trying. But her football skills were impressive (she could pass and shoot with both sides of her nose). And she was a lovely companion for us to walk and run with who adored playing in the snow. Her way of picking up one ear and dropping the other when paying attention was an endearing touch, sadly missed. 

Her guardians, the Nixon family, thank Dr. Berdeen Ross, Dr. Tegan Olesen, the Animal Nurses and front of office staff at Aspen Animal Hospital for their loving care and compassion for Arya the Airedale during her illness and her short life. 

Winter came and it came too soon. 

A gallery of photographs celebrating the life of Arya the Airedale may be viewed at J. Ashley Nixon Photography

Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Calgary, Canada, Environmental documentary photography, Heritage, Pets, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Steven Wilson’s Expressions To The Bone

Steven Wilson performing at McEwan Hall, Calgary on June 23, 2015.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Social prog

“It’s not what you’ll possess. It’s how you will express the essence of you.”

So goes the opening lines to the final track, Song of Unborn on Steven Wilson’s new album To the Bone. Like other songs on the recording released by Caroline International on August 18, it is filled with social observations around current, notable themes. Forced migration is there (Refuge). So is extreme religious fervour spun out of control into violent mayhem in the stonking, stand-out song, Detonation. There’s a dig at social media (“I’m tired of Facebook”, on Pariah) and some frustration vented at presidents and politicians (“You represent the people but you don’t believe in free will”) on The Same Asylum as Before.

Urban living

Steven Wilson’s take on Prog Rock is refreshing, creative and challenging both to himself and his audience. His exploration of urban blight and impersonal city living has evolved from the rural pastoralism of Progressive Rock in the 1970s (think Jethro Tull, who Wilson has remixed and my first fave prog band as a teenager) and brought the genre up to date. Yes, there are thunderous guitar solos racing up through the sky of octaves. There are three part harmonies (Nowhere Now) and falsetto (The Same Asylum as Before). And there’s plenty of Wilson’s signature brand in melancholic minors that pluck your heartstrings (for example, in Refuge). After all, he doesn’t do happy (see my Steven Wilson gig review from 2015).

All of the above makes for excellent auditory exploration. There is some fun stuff here as well. Like the riffing piano/guitar opening of the very danceable Permanating that pays homage to a certain Swedish band called Abba and maybe reaches back to him listening to Mrs Wilson’s favourite tunes when he was a kid at home. The opening song, To the Bone has blue hints of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with its harmonica solo. There’s more of that instrument in hauntingly beautiful fashion at the end of Refuge which also features some slick slide guitar plus at least three other great six string sounds, played with style by Wilson himself. Except for Song of I, he plays all of the guitar pieces. For his touring in 2018 hopefully we will see and hear Dave Kilminster play in the band. The lyrics of To the Bone, about different versions of truth, are penned by Andy Partridge, chief songwriter for XTC (Steven Wilson’s career as a record producer includes a remix of the monumental Drums and Wires, originally released by XTC in 1979). There’s also a nice nod in the direction of the band (Tears for Fears) that sometimes sounded more like The Beatles than the Fab Four themselves, on Asylum.

Soundtrack for 007?

Song of I is just waiting in the wings for a film to come along and be crafted around it. Maybe the timing is right to put it into the next James Bond movie? Daniel Craig, as he prepares for his last appearance as 007 is surely ready to “give it all up”.

Living on the shoulders of giants

Steven Wilson cares deeply about his music. How it sounds; how it feels; what it means. He has no problem standing, or living, on the shoulders of giants since, in music like most of life, everything is connected. Moments that take you to the sounds of Abba, Tears for Fears, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello (hints of Painted from Memory (1998) at the closing of Refuge) and Tom Petty (listen to the Mike Campbell-like guitar on To the Bone) all fit perfectly well in his new recording. Prog rock never had to stand still and To The Bone progresses strongly in a positive direction after Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015) and before that The Raven That Used to Sing (And Other Stories) (2013).

I haven’t felt so excited about a new release in a long time. Time to listen to this one again, and then again. Steven Wilson, please consider Canada (and specifically Calgary) in your touring plans for 2018!

Posted in Documentary photography, Music, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beavers chew up Saints with thirteen tries

Ruairi O’Farrell scores the second of his three tries for the Calgary Canucks versus Calgary Saints at Calgary Rugby Park.
© J. Ashley Nixon

As the regular Alberta Rugby season got down to its last couple of games, the Calgary Saints were in need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. But with Canadian international Mozak Samson out with an upper body injury inflicted during last week´s Canadian Rugby Championship and several Division 2 players having to run double duty after their game against Lethbridge just before this one, the Saints were put between a beaver dam and a hard place.

The Calgary Canucks (The Beavers) ran in thirteen tries to the Saints two to win at Calgary Rugby Park by a big margin of 83-12. The Canucks played festive summer rugby with good, flowing use of some ample possession. They also stole a lot of ball from the numerous restarts to maintain a strong handle on the game throughout.

Canucks fly half Ruairi O´Farrell played with flair, taking the ball at top speed and repeatedly sidestepping his opposite backs to run in a hat-trick. He could have made it four except for some classy, unselfish play in the first half when he passed the ball for loose forward Hamish McDonald to take the points as they both crossed over the try line. 

O’Farrell set up the Canucks fourth try when he broke away from the scrum in his own 22m. He then made a perfectly timed pass 10m out for captain and scrum-half Jake Bentley to score after 31 minutes. It was Bentley´s turn for a break away just three minutes later when he ran half the length of the pitch to put the ball down left of the posts. Despite the Saints defender jumping over him as he touched down, he appeared to get clipped on the arm by a boot which may have bothered him enough to come off later in the game. Just as the first half was ending, Trea Handle was set up to go over after a big, strong forward run by Logan Jones to make it 43-0.

Just as the first half was ending, Trea Handle was set up to go over after a big, strong forward run by Logan Jones to make it 43-0.

The Saints got onto the score sheet four minutes into the second half when centre #12 evaded three tackles to score out on the left. He missed his own conversion putting the score at 43-5. After eight minutes, Derek Arnold made one of his characteristic strong drives down the centre of the pitch, handing off defenders and passing the ball to O’Farrell to come through at speed and put the ball over the line for his third try.

The Saints, unhappy about the 50 points against, pushed hard after the restart leading to a try by second-row #5 and, with the conversion, the score was 50-12. It was the last score from them but the Beavers kept chewing on their line resulting in five more tries. Handle got his second of the game as did Chad Spence and there were winger tries from Nathan Pratt and Karl Rogers on the left and right, respectively.  Full-back Connor Tweed scored on the last play to go along with his nine conversions and a 23 point game.

Final score: Canucks 83-12 Saints.

Next up, it’s Canucks versus Hornets in the last game of the regular season, on Sep 9.

For more photos of this and other rugby games, please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography

Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Calgary, Canada, Photography, Rugby, Sports, Sports photography | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Celebrating World Photo Day with rugby

The BC Bears celebrate their first try in the Canadian Rugby Championship final at Calgary Rugby Park.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Saturday was World Photo Day and I celebrated by shooting three games of rugby in Alberta. As well as the four hours of match time, the driving plus the collation and editing of about 1,600 photos made it a long, but enjoyable day.

Rather than giving match reports, I thought that I would write something about rugby photography to mark this global event. The idea was triggered by a conversation I had while packing up my gear after a music event recently. I was asked how I can compete with all of the smart phones around and the instant images they generate? Like millions of others, I use my iPhone for photography regularly and love the results (especially with the new portrait mode) and the ease with which you can do a quick edit (I typically use Photoshop Express) and send it out on social media.

But with “real cameras”, meaning digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, there are three big advantages: you can get closer to the action; you can shoot a decent photograph when the light is not great; you can freeze the moment with a high shutter speed. Taken together, it could mean you can capture an amazing image of a precise and special moment that a smart phone simply cannot achieve.

Rugby creates wonderful imagery of athleticism, strength, agility, guts, and determination as well as true team work and (for much of the time) respectful aggression. While the most popular action shots feature tries, there is a great deal to explore in moments of emotion in tackles, scrimmaging and line out play.

Why the big lenses?

As with all sports photography, knowing something about the game is an advantage as it helps you to follow the most likely action.  Outdoor play means that generally speaking, the light will be good. There are exceptions, however such as the Canada versus Georgia international that I photographed in bitterly cold, driving rain and pretty dark skies in June. Fast action calls for fast glass, that is photographic lenses that can gather a lot of light. These lenses have larger maximum apertures (the opening for light to enter), which are described by their f-stop. Confusingly, the biggest apertures have the smallest number, so lenses used in sports photography usually go to f2.8.

Capturing that precise moment when the try is scored also requires a reasonably fast shutter speed, which determines how many frames, or pictures you can take in a second. A professional camera might be shooting between 8-12 frames per second, a lot faster than smart phones.

Finally, having some magnification helps to get shots right across the field of play. While a 35 mm or 50 mm lens is great for creating images in streets, the lenses used in sporting events are typically capable of going up to 400 mm (and sometimes higher). Of course, those big lenses will be no good for action right in front of your face, which explains why sports photographers are usually seen dragging a lot of cameras and other gear around.

BC Bears versus Ontario Blues

Andrew Ferguson scores for Ontario Blues under a setting sun to take the lead, momentarily, in the game against BC Bears. The Bears went on to win30-29 to take the 2017 Canadian Rugby Championship.
© J. Ashley Nixon

The last game I shot in the day was the Canadian Rugby Championship final between the BC Bears and Ontario Blues. In a terrific, fiercely contested match, the West Coast team pulled off their first championship win since 2009 by the thinnest of margins, 30-29.

Here is the link to the photo gallery.

Prairie Wolf Pack versus Atlantic Rock

Carl Pocock scores one of his two tries in the Canadian Rugby Championship bronze game against Atlantic Rock at Calgary Rugby Park.
© J. Ashley Nixon

In the previous round between these two teams, the Rock came out winners but that wasn’t repeated on Saturday when the Wolf Pack, spurred on by the local fans at Calgary Rugby Park came out tops, 41-19 to take the bronze spot in this year’s Canadian Rugby Championship.

Here is the link to the photo gallery.

Bow Valley versus Calgary Canucks

Action in front of a white house at Milford Park, Cochrane between Bow Valley and Calgary Canucks.
© J. Ashley Nixon

My day of celebrating World Photography Day began out in Cochrane, a town of around 25,000 people on the banks of the Bow River, about 30 km west of Calgary. The early afternoon game played at Milford Park went the way of the local team, The Grizzlies, by a margin of 15 points.

Here is the link to the photo gallery.

Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Calgary, Canada, Photography, Rugby, Sports photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jake Bentley joins the Prairie Wolf Pack scorers club

Jake Bentley scores his first-ever try for the Prairie Wolf Pack in their Canadian Rugby Championship game against Atlantic Rock at Calgary Rugby Park.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Calgary Canucks to Prairie Wolf Pack

Jake Bentley is one of three brothers (Josh and Joe are on either side of him, age-wise) who have all played rugby at some time or other, with the Calgary Canucks. They follow in the boots of their Dad, Marty, who continues to have a big presence in rugby in the city and whom I had the great pleasure of working alongside, coaching the Junior Canucks when they were between 7-15 years old.

Jake, who just turned 22 at the beginning of August began playing when he was nine and has gone on to earn the scrum half position with the Senior Canucks men’s team as well as being a strategic member of the Mount Royal University rugby club. He loves playing that key position “because you get to touch the ball almost every phase and with that comes an opportunity to really control the pace of the game for both your team and the opposition.”

Scrum-half understudy to Gordon McRorie

I caught up with Jake at Calgary Rugby Park after the Prairie Wolf Pack game versus Atlantic Rock in the third round of the Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC). There are four sub-national (provincial or regional) representative teams in this annual competition, the other two being the BC Bears and Ontario Blues. I asked Jake how playing for the Canucks has helped him prepare for this next level of rugby in Canada. He noted that the biggest thing is the consistency: “Playing with the same guy’s year in and year out, you’ve got a pretty solid team that comes back every year so I think that’s huge”, he said.

Jake began his career with the Wolf Pack last season as the understudy to international scrum-half, Gordon McRorie, who was part of Canada’s squad at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. I was curious to hear how this had helped Jake to improve his play at “Number 9”, a position that requires an old head on a youngster to survive and thrive. “I don’t think you can get a better mentor than Gordie, he’s always willing to help,” said Jake. “If you ask him a question he takes you aside and he gives you more than enough to go off of and he encourages you to come back with more questions.”

Despite a last-minute push by the Wolf Pack that saw them score a couple of tries, the game went in favour of the Rock by a score of 33-29 (you can read the match report here). Jake was positive about the experience and the challenge of switching from wing to scrum-half in the latter part of the game. “I had to get used to running towards the ruck because I was getting used to not running towards the ruck. So some old habits came back and they paid off.”

Wolf Pack scorers club

Jake scored his first-ever try for the Wolf Pack in the game. Unselfishly, he gave credit to his centre who sucked in the opposition and gave him a brilliant pass. “Actually, Bonts (Adam Bontus) did all of the work and just put me away so all I had to do was dot (the ball) down but, nonetheless I’m very happy and excited to be part of the Wolf Pack scorers club.”

The Wolf Pack and Rock go at it again today and compete for the bronze position in the CRC. “We are going to take what we saw today and implement it because it’s a big game. We are going to have to come together as a full fifteen and beat the Rock for that third place position in the CRC.”

A match report and photos from the bronze game, Prairie Wolf Pack versus Atlantic Rock will follow soon.

You can see the interview here:

Interview with Jake Bentley, Prairie Wolf Pack from J. Ashley Nixon on Vimeo.

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Rock comeback rolls over Wolf Pack at Calgary Rugby Park

Jake Bentley scores his first career try for the Prairie Wolf Pack in their Canadian Rugby Championship game against Atlantic Rock at Calgary Rugby Park.
© J. Ashley Nixon

The Prairie Wolf Pack ran hard in the opening minutes of the third round Canadian Rugby Championship game against Atlantic Rock to score two tries. The first came from fly-half, Robbie Povey (Calgary Hornets) after 11 minutes. Five minutes later,  left winger Jake Bentley took a beautifully timed pass from his centre, Adam Bontus to speed in for a try close to the posts. They were the first points for the Calgary Canucks player in a Pack jersey, who switched to his regular position of scrum half later in the game.

Brett Johnson scored the first try for the Rock after 35 minutes and a late half penalty by Cooper Coats put the score closer, at 17-14, at the interval.

Coats was back on the score sheet ten minutes into the second half with a try that caught the Pack defense struggling to cover left across their line. With his own conversion, the Rock went into the lead, 17-21. Michael Hamson extended the East Coast team’s lead to 17-26 and they went further ahead with a try from Jack McCarthy after 34 minutes.

Just like in their game against Ontario Blues on Sunday, the Wolf Pack put in a strong, late push with tries by Mozac Samson and Robbie Povey, his second of the evening. But it wasn’t quite enough and the Atlantic Rock picked up their first win of the Championship, 29-33.

The two teams compete again for bronze on Saturday at Calgary Rugby Park (5:00 pm MST).

Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more images from the Canadian Rugby Championship and other rugby games.


Posted in #YYC, Alberta, Calgary, Canada, Photography, Rugby, Sports, Sports photography | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments