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Jim Howie, the Lakers' handyman
Jan. 9, 2006
By LINDA BOUVET, LSSU Sports Information Director
Players come and go. Teams have their ups and downs. The Upper Peninsula weather dramatically changes on a moment's notice. But there will always be a few constants when it comes to Lake Superior State hockey: a big anchor plastered on the front of the Lakers' jerseys, great goaltending and Jim Howie.
"I just hope I get to retire as many times as Gil Somes and Roy Forrest have," said Howie, who retired on Dec. 29 after a 26-year career with the Michigan Department of Corrections.
The MDOC's loss is LSSU's gain.
For almost two decades, Howie has been the Lakers' camera man and general handyman. He has no plans to retire from those jobs, although he threatens every now and then to ask for a raise (his current salary is $0). Howie is the man who designed and built "Laker Avenue" in Taffy Abel Ice Arena and the LSSU women's basketball lockerroom. Now that he has more time on his hands, Howie has plenty of ideas for improving the Norris Center atmosphere and giving the University a means to display its rich history in athletics.
"This school has been good to me, and this is my way of paying it back," said Howie, who earned a history degree from LSSU in 1971 and later obtained a master's degree in social work from Michigan State. "It's so much easier to write a check. That's all the work you have to do. I've tried to use some other talents and save the school a lot of money."
Indeed. Howie's carpentry skills were first noticed when former Laker hockey player Rob Valicevic saw a puck rack that he had made and displayed at the Old Pepper Mill restaurant. Howie built the first one for student equipment manager Paul Boyer.
"With the NCAA regulations, I thought I better talk to (former assistant coach) Paul Pooley," he said. "He asked how much effort it would be to build one for all of the seniors. We won the NCAA title that year. They (Pooley and the equipment managers) helped me get all of the pucks."
And a tradition began. Howie has lost count of how many puck racks he's made. He also built the wooden anchor mounted on the wall near the hockey coaches' offices, and he's done projects for other LSSU teams.
Laker Avenue was the brainchild of Howie and former LSSU head coach Frank Anzalone, who took all of the most-valuable player portraits out of the hockey lockerroom and wanted them displayed for the public.
"Frank also wanted a separate trophy case for the hockey stuff," Howie said in reference to the hockey program's NCAA championship trophies. "I designed a trophy case and put the MVP photos up (along with the all-America and team photos that were gathered during the Jeff Jackson era). They had been mounted in aluminum, and I built oak frames. John Wilkie, who runs a prison vocational tech program, did the lettering for us."
Howie noted that the MDOC includes many Laker fans - employees and residents alike.
"The University is part of the education system in the state of Michigan, and it's also a place where a lot of people in the community have gone to school. It's a source of pride. I've been to a couple other arenas. The ones in our league, I don't think they can compare to what we've got on display here. And we still have a lot of wall space, and there's still a lot of history that can be put on display. I'm hoping fans in the area are willing to donate items and fill another trophy case."
"Jim has devoted untold hours to our programs over the years, virtually for no compensation," LSSU athletics director Bill Crawford said. "He is invaluable working the camera for hockey games, but he is just as dedicated to us when building trophy cases or setting up and framing photos. Jim does great work, and we can never repay him for all the time and effort he has put in for our programs. He has done things for all the teams at Lake Superior State, and all our coaches are indebted to him."
Howie is on his third camera and his 16th season filming games for the LSSU coaching staff. He was recruited for that job by Somes, who was the Lakers' equipment manager at the time.
"I haven't seen a Lakers' home game live since Frank coached here the first time," Howie said. "Watching the game through the camera strips you of the emotion of the game. You can't get into it. You can't get mad at the refs. I hear fans screaming at something, and I can't take my eyes off the camera. Someone could be sprawled on the ice or a fight could break out, and I won't know."
Since he can't watch games the same way that fans do, Howie is satisfied when he sees spectators stroll down Laker Avenue or when the coaches and athletes take notice of the work he's done. He's been a Laker fan since the days when Soo Tech played at Pullar Stadium, and he is a part of the program. He even purchased his own NCAA championship rings in 1992 and '94.
"I'm trying to remember how many sports information directors I've gone through," Howie joked. "How many ADs, head coaches, radio announcers, assistant coaches I've worked with over the years. The rink workers are always great to work with....It's been a nice sideline to help relieve the tensions of working in the prison system. That's not something a lot of people can understand if they don't work there."
Well, Jim, don't get too comfortable in retirement. We've got a job for you...
Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey