How Dan Hickling’s name became synonymous with youth hockey in America
You’ve seen the name watermarked on photos of player profiles from the likes of Elite Prospects, featured images of various news sites and creatively cropped out of countless numbers of kids’ Instagram pics.
© Dan Hickling
Everyone from 2021 NHL Draft first overall pick Owen Power to ’07-born top 2022 OHL Draft pick Michael Misa, the USHL’s most recent No. 1 overall pick Jak Vaarwerk, and literally everyone in between. If they’ve played high-level hockey in North America, odds are very, very, very high that Hickling has snapped photos of that player in action. It’s almost a right of passage for up-and-coming players, as the Hicklings are the main providers of images for EP; the central repository for players and teams across the age spectrum and across the globe. Their images are used by the USHL, OHL, EHL, Upper Deck, Neutral Zone and others, as well.
Dan waxed poetic while describing he and his wife Margaret’s visit to Barrington Ice Arena in Lake Barrington, Illinois. It was the 290th rink the couple has visited.
Yes, that’s right, it was Rink No. 290 for the dynamic duo behind Hickling Images.
“It’s a very old rink,” he said. “Very dark rink, very humble rink, but the people there truly love the game. They love the kids who come and play there. They’re very welcoming to us and we found ourselves to be very kindred spirits with the guy who runs the little canteen there and the Zamboni driver.
“Those are the things that stand out.”
That connection with the community is not only why the Hickling’s have managed to build one of the premiere photography operations in hockey. It’s why they are always a welcomed sight at any ice rink in North America.
Dan’s The Man… But Not Without A Good Woman
When visiting a rink, you will find Dan along the glass or on one of the benches taking the photos. Margaret, meanwhile, will be stationed close by, ready to take care of the behind-the-scenes work crucial to any photography operation. He shoots, she edits and uploads. A tandem that’s made their presence felt with their work in youth hockey.
“It’s me and my wife Margaret together,” Dan said. “What we do is very much a team effort. Obviously I do the shooting but she does the editing, the filing, the sorting and usually the dispatching too. So we’re interchangeable and inseparable in all of that. My name is on the photo and people see me in the rink or in the bowl. So they tend to associate me with that, but Margaret and I are basically the best team in hockey and we’re still undefeated.”
Hickling, a lifelong hockey fan, was working as a writer for a now defunct newspaper in New England. The need to learn photography appeared before him, thanks to layoffs at the publication.
“They had fired all of their photographers and the camera ended up in my hands, so that’s kind of where the photography part of it began,” Dan said. “That was 2009, and Margaret and I, we came together in 2012 and, not just looking for a past-time but looking for a purpose. Just kind of became led in this direction as far as wielding a camera and shooting hockey and doors opened for us.”
It’s been a snowball effect ever since.
“We started contributing, volunteer photos for Elite Prospects and then eventually the USHL caught sight of a photo that they were looking for that we had shot. That opened a door there, and things have really, I don’t want to say steamrolled because you can get flattened that way, but things have proceeded from that point. That’s very much the thumbnail part of it. I had begun getting a groundwork for photography and Margaret didn’t. She was a retired teacher, and she didn’t have any experience in editing photos but she quickly got some. We began to see this was a two-person effort and the fact that we do it together and do it so seamlessly, it’s very kind of divine inspiration I’d say.”
Without Margaret’s help from the concourse, lobby or wherever she can set up a laptop, Hickling Images as it is today would be inconceivable. Sorting, editing, organizing — those are the tasks that limit how much work a photographer can get done. Even the best with a camera need some work on their images when shooting in a dimly-lit ice arena. The dynamic-duo aspect means more rinks visited, and more photos posted for players across the U.S. and Canada.
“She just sees the initiative,” Dan said. “She’s very great with details and, of course, you get to know so many fellow photographers and the thing they envy the most is that I don’t have to sit and sift through photos and do the editing. I’ve got someone who does all that for me. I can’t tell you how many times people have tried to steal Margaret away from me for that purpose. She takes to that so naturally, she’s very detail-oriented, she’s very precise, and also she saw her niche very quickly. That freed me up to kind of do what I do pretty well.”
No Community Like The Youth Hockey Community
They take great pride in their work and in knowing that they are helping hockey players capture lifelong memories.
“We’re both about to turn 69, and we are by far living our best lives and seeing such a great purpose in what we do,” Dan said. “It may seem like we’re just going and shooting hockey photos, and that is what we do, but it’s more than that. It’s interacting with people, it’s interacting with young players who all have their whole lives ahead of them. By the way, us 68-year-old people have our whole lives ahead of us, too. We have that in common. We are able to help be a bit of a voice for these young players who are working hard, and the coaches who coach them, they’re working hard. Everybody’s trying to do something that they love and progress and proceed to the next level. So for us to have any kind of part in that is really a privilege.
“We consider it an honor any time we walk into a rink to be able to do that. Together, Margaret and I, we’ve been to 291 different rinks throughout the U.S. and Canada. We’ve had a tremendous opportunity to interact with people and see them achieve their dreams or to find out that hey, it was fun while it lasted, but maybe now it’s time to do something else. At least we’ve been able to help chronicle their journey a little bit.”
There’s certainly joy in capturing a USHL Clark Cup championship or seeing your photos appear on an Upper Deck card. However, it’s the people — hockey people — that keep them coming back to the rink.
“It’s all about the people, it really is,” he said. “I don’t get tired of watching hockey, but life is much more than hockey. The things that we do in our lives, the things that refresh us in our lives, carry over into our hockey life. Hopefully that helps allow us to be difference-makers as we go. You’ll hear coaches talk about how this guy’s a difference maker. Well hopefully we’re all trying to be difference makers in one facet or another. We see that opportunity, but if we don’t have something solid and substantial in our personal lives, we don’t really have a whole lot to share at the rink.”
Not All About Hockey
Believe it or not, they do try to see what’s happening away from the rink, as well. Their trips across the continent for hockey afford them some very unique ‘vacation’ spots.
“Often we’ll take our cameras and go out for a day,” said Dan. “For instance, we were just in Sherbrooke, Quebec in the middle of a Quebec league preseason swing. We had a day off, beautiful day in Sherbrooke and a real nice riverwalk area there. So we just kind of took our cameras and did some recreational shooting. Not for any other purpose but for the fun of it and to be able to create what we call ‘us moments.’
These things that we’ve done and seen together and we could have only done and seen together. Out of that, Margaret took a shot of white paper birches, something she has an affinity for. We got it blown up and it’s about to go on our wall.
Just things like that, creating memories, and doing things that, again, we get to share together. We like finding little breakfast places or little places where people who run them, they really care about what they’re doing. We always appreciate it when we can find a breakfast place that someone really cares about. Those become what we call us moments.”
The Hicklings have no plans on slowing down, either. If they had it their way, 291 would just be the start of their rink-visiting adventures.
“Well if God gives us another 300 or 400 years on this earth, we probably might get there, but not expecting that,” said Dan. “Wouldn’t be a surprise if they found us both keeled over in a parking lot someplace trying to reach for that last rink.”