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January 25, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Q&A with Allison Davis O'Keefe

Book 'One Goal' Chronicles 2010-11 North Dakota Season

CHN Staff Report

Eric Burton conducted the following interview with Allison Davis O’Keefe, author and photographer of the book One Goal. It's a picture book that chronicles North Dakota's 2010-11 season. Davis O'Keefe is originally from the East, but is married to a North Dakota native, which spurred interest in the book. She has worked as a photojournalist for CBS News.

EB: How hard was it to gain access to the Fighting Sioux hockey team and the coaching staff?

O'Keefe: It was hard. I am not from (the Grand Forks) community so I honestly didn’t realize how private the team can be. They are a tight-knit group, a band of brothers, if you will, and they protect one another. Hockey players also have many superstitions – ‘routine’ they will call it – and anything or anybody who challenges the norm is greeted with healthy suspicion.

EB: Was it hard to convince Dave Hakstol to let you photograph him and his team?

O'Keefe: Yes. I think Coach Hakstol is fiercely protective of his team and he didn’t want anything to distract them from their goal. Coach Hakstol is a naturally private person and I think that instinct extends to his team. I, like his players, had to gain his trust and confidence; the doors weren’t flung open, even after he had agreed to allow the project to move forward.

EB: How long did it take to get that in?

O'Keefe: I have been asking Coach Hakstol to photograph the team in one way or another for a number of years. I think he finally agreed because it was to be the last year of the Fighting Sioux. But frankly, the book is about much more than that.

EB: Was there ever time the head coach said, not today?

O'Keefe: There was never a time when he said ‘not today’, no. The agreement was open access and the team gradually accepted that. As a photojournalist who has covered Capitol Hill and presidential campaigns, you know when to put the camera down and build a relationship, build trust, and when you absolutely can’t miss the shot.  I knew when not attend a meeting and he knew, for the most part, that I was there. I tried to use a level of discretion in the process while still capturing every aspect of team life.

EB: I have heard people make comments about you being related to head coach via marriage and that was the reason you were able to gain access, but that’s not true? 

O'Keefe: Coach Hakstol is married to my husband’s cousin – and, honestly, I think all that gained me was the ability to broach the subject of this project with him. I had to earn his trust, his team’s trust, and the staff’s trust.  Without that, I would have been shut out and shut down two games into the season. And I made it clear from the beginning that this is a work of photojournalism; I’d shoot what I saw with no interference. To his credit, Coach Hakstol was true to that agreement. Not once did he ask to see the pictures before they were published.  And he didn’t see the final book until after it was off the printing press and on sale.

EB: How were you received by the players?

O'Keefe: At first the players were confused as to why I was there all the time. There were whispers of ‘who is this person’ and ‘why is she crouched on the ground, taking photos while we board the bus’? They had questions. I remember at an away game in Madison early in the season, Jason Gregoire turned as he loaded his bag on the team bus and said, “What are you doing here?”

But over time they all got used to it, and would make fun of me, or joke about getting ‘face time’. I was also pregnant with my daughter during the entire season so toward the end it was a little comical watching me walk on the ice after the Final Five or the regional NCAA tournament. It got harder to get up and down and move quickly with two cameras, a bag of lenses; some of the guys would help me up and wonder aloud if it was doctor-approved for a pregnant woman to walk on the ice.

EB: How were you received by the UND assistant coaches?

O'Keefe: Coach (Dane) Jackson is hilarious – at one of the Thursday night steak dinners I mentioned how much I enjoyed the HBO series leading up to the Winter Classic and how much I admired the access they got. Jackson picked up on my not-too-subtle hint and said, “Alli, what do you want? Let’s do it.”

I was busted. They all knew why I had brought it up (keep in mind I had to make sure to watch SportsCenter just to know what the heck they were always talking about) but from that point forward, I didn’t really ask to go in the locker room; I just did.

EB: You did a real good job of showing the different sides of Coach Hakstol; how did that play out?

O'Keefe: Time. It is just true that with any extended photography/documentary project, it takes time to show various sides of a person. I slowly would ask for a little more – “how about I start the day at your house and go to work with you.” But he didn’t think anyone would want to see that stuff so at first he thought it was a little weird. There is a photo that is not in the book of him driving to work while holding a mug of coffee. Despite numerous travel-mug gifts, he still always drives to work with a mug of coffee. I don’t even think it fits in the cup holder. But that is routine. And I was interested in things like that. I think everyone sees a very stoic serious Coach – which is accurate – but for someone who is arguably a community leader and who feels a responsibility to the town that his team represents, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.

EB: What was your impression of the 2010-11 season?

O'Keefe: Expectations and pressure. It seems the Fighting Sioux are always expected to win and win big but this season in particular came with an elevated level of destiny. And I can’t truly imagine what that must feel like. They put pressure on themselves and I do think they had fun together that season but I would say that one of the lessons learned that year was that there is a value in recognizing your accomplishments along the way. At a recent UND Fan Luncheon, Coach Hakstol, in speaking about the book, said that in 10 years he would bring the 2010-2011 team together for a reunion. And they would truly relish in all of their personal and professional accomplishments – something, perhaps, they didn’t do enough of in the moment. One of the things that I think is lost in coverage of Coach Hakstol is his strong influence on these ‘young men’ as he calls them. He may have to be a disciplinarian and a coach but he truly has an effect on their lives. And Coach Hakstol knows that it is more important to be a good human being, a good man, in life than it is to focus on wins and losses.

EB: Impression of the UND fan base and Ralph Englestad Arena?

O'Keefe: The saying, "You won’t believe it until you see it" is never more true than at the Ralph Englestad Arena. I would go back to New York, hang out with my friends, meet a photo editor, and try to describe what I was trying to accomplish with this project and I genuinely couldn’t find the words.

EB: You did a good job reflecting on the seniors on the 2010-11 Fighting Sioux hockey team; what was your impression of the class of 2011? Who stuck the most of the class?

O'Keefe: I will attempt to answer this without sounding too sentimental – the seniors are simply a great group of guys.  You will not meet someone who works harder, is more humble, and kind than Chay Genoway. And the group that started together and went all four years on the team together were like true brothers.

EB: Who were the characters on the team that stuck out for you?

O'Keefe: Brad Malone is a character – there was always something happening with him. I think Brent Davidson grew so much as a player that year. That was cool to watch. I went with Jake Marto and Chay Genoway when they volunteered at the Grand Forks Senior Center. They really felt like a part of the community and it was humbling to see how well they were received. That was a unique bunch – a great team – and I truly enjoyed getting to know each of them as individuals.

EB: What happened to the pictures that didn’t make it into the book?

O'Keefe: There are a number of images that I really like that didn’t make it into the book. I will likely put some on my website, allisondavisokeefe.com. The other thing that didn’t make it into the book was a lot of the content from my interviews with Coach Hakstol. We sat down a number of times over the course of the season and afterward. Those interviews are audio-only and I would like to share them in some way. The two most telling are the ones from the day after the Frozen Four loss and the one we did the following season.

EB: Is there any way that you will do a second book?

O'Keefe: No, it is unlikely that there will be a second book.  This was a one-shot chance.

EB: Is there plans for a follow book on another UND hockey team? Or another school?

O'Keefe: No, I have no plans to do this with another hockey team. I hope that documenting the 2010-2011 season opened the door for others to document UND hockey. Peter Bottoni, Matt Schill and the team working on “Through These Doors” is fantastic.

This article was originally published by Eric Burton at his blog "Goon's World." The book is available for purchase at the SiouxShop.

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