Photographer John Howe captures players' quiet moments

By Bill Althaus

Donna Rider taps on the door of the Missouri Mavericks Team Store hoping to get someone's attention.

It's a few minutes before the official 11 a.m. opening, but staff member Teresa Franklin opens the door so the Mavericks season ticket holder can get out of the wind and cold outside of the Independence Events Center.

Rider heads over to the new photograph display called the Locker Room Series. It features pregame portraits of the Mavericks, ranging from Obi Aduba's trance-like stare as he meditates before hitting the ice to Olympian Henrik Odegaard's casual pose as he mentally braces himself for another CHL contest. “Well, these should warm me up,” jokes Rider, as she tries to pick out her favorite portraits.

“My husband wouldn't appreciate it if I came home with a life-size poster, but I'm going to decorate my office with these portraits because they're so different. The boys aren't out on the ice - you really see their personalities in the portraits.” She pauses for a moment, grins, and adds, “And they're just so darned cute. That Colten Hayes is just a honey pie, and Andrew Courtney is so goofy. I don't know how the photographer got him to look so serious in that photo.”

Ironically, the photographer was standing less than five feet from Rider.

“That picture of Andrew is pretty special,” said Independence Police Sgt. John Howe, who has been taking photos at Mavericks games the past three seasons, “because I managed to get him when he wasn't crossing his eyes or sticking out his tongue.

“You're right when you say he's goofy. He's the nicest guy you could ever meet, and I was able to capture that solemn moment so few fans get to witness. But my favorite picture is one of Obi. I got lucky and snapped the photo right before he moved.”

Rider couldn't decide on a favorite photo, so she purchased all 10.

“We've never had any photos in the store that have attracted as much attention as the Locker Room Series,” Franklin said, after ringing up Rider's purchase. “People are just floored by the images because they're used to seeing photos of the Mavericks on the ice, but these are so different.

“I think the image of Obi gets the most attention because of his physique and the look on his face, that real intense look. They have all been amazingly well received. Plus, I think people like it that they are in a limited edition run, so that makes them unique.”

The road to the Locker Room Series is as interesting as the series itself. Several years ago, Howe was watching his son Mason play a Little League Baseball game when a photographer began snapping action shots on the field.

“The next week, he came back and was selling 5-by-7 photos for $5 each,” Howe said. “Like any good dad, I bought all the pictures of Mason, and suddenly, I was shelling out $50 to $60 bucks a week on photos of my kid.”

So Howe took out his own camera, a Digital Canon Rebel, and began taking photos. Soon, Mason, now 12 years old, had switched from baseball to hockey, and his dad vowed to take enough photos to satisfy every parent on the team – all free of charge.

“I gave all the photos away,” Howe said. “I didn't want to charge the parents for photos. In kind of a strange twist, I now get all my photos processed at the photography shop the guy who took photos of Mason owns.”

Because the action on the ice is so fast paced, Howe upgraded his equipment, which might be one of the most important decisions of his life as a photographer.

“Because Mason was playing hockey, my family went to a Mavericks game, and we fell in love with it,” Howe said. “I worked some of the games (as a police officer), and I told my wife how much I enjoyed them, so she started coming and immediately fell in love with the game.

“Now, we're season ticket holders. We're two rows off the ice in 104 - but I only sit in our seats about one period.”

The rest of the time he is out capturing the action on the ice, and it has helped him become friends with many of the players and staff.

“Taking photographs has nothing to do with police work,” Howe said. “I am able to focus on capturing good memories, it doesn't involve having to arrest someone, or see death and suffering.”

And his work has captured the attention of the right people in the organization.

“We came up with this idea for the Locker Room Series, and John seemed like the perfect guy to take the photos,” said Madeleine Stroth, the team's public relations and media communications manager. “He had some great ideas for photos and the players are all so comfortable around him. He's friends with a lot of the players, so it wouldn't be like a stranger was in the locker room.”

Mavericks coach Scott Hillman gave his blessing to the project because of Howe's association with the team.

“A hockey locker room is different than a lot of locker rooms,” Hillman said. “It's a little bit more laid back, a bit looser, but it's not that way when a stranger walks in – especially before the start of a game. John is a longtime friend of the team and everyone has a certain comfort level with him. He is not a distraction at all if he is taking photos of the boys.

“Don't get me wrong - the locker room is a sacred place - and it's a sacred place for the team. And we feel like John is a part of our team.”

And now, Howe is allowing Mavericks fans to feel as if they are a part of the team through his photos.

“Heck, I can't even go in there,” laughed Stroth, one of Howe's biggest fans. “You look at John's pictures, and you know what each player is thinking. He gives you a special feeling, like you belong right in there with the players.”

The Locker Room Series is available in the Team Store. The 8-by-10 photos are $10 each and the posters are $24.95. Each player on the team will be featured before the end of the regular season.

“Five years ago, I didn't know a thing about hockey,” Howe said. “Now, my son plays, it's date night for me and wife when the Mavericks are home and the team and players think enough of me to allow me into their home, their locker room.”