I am sitting in Santiago, Chile at the XIX Pan American Games trying to put into words the contributions and career of one of the most epic volunteers and hockey builders Canada and the international field hockey scene has ever seen. Yan Huckendubler has one of the most unique and probably difficult names to pronounce, so much so that most just know him by his social media handle @yhucken – the man behind the lens. What you probably don’t know is that being a world-class sport photographer is not all that he does for field hockey.
I met Yan in the early 2000s, when I was on the women’s national team, and would send him photos and videos of our team, for the Canadian field hockey website, while we were away touring. He started to see something in me that I never saw in myself and helped launch my career in sports communications after I stopped playing. In 2013, Yan invited me to be a media officer at the Pan American Cup in Brampton, Ontario. I appreciated him trusting me enough to pass on the communications torch, which allowed him to pursue photography full time.
Now, we are together at our third Pan American Games. We work with a small team to cover the entire event for the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF)– him with the photography and me with the website and social media. This year is Yan’s seventh-straight Games. Just grapple with that for a minute since these games are only every four years. On top of that, Yan has worked at six Olympic Games, six Commonwealth Games, four World Cups, five indoor World Cups, and multiple other events. This year in Santiago he was awarded an FIH Certificate of Recognition, a PAHF President’s Award (for the second time), and a PAHF Order of Merit. And while those awards are impressive, still, with his quiet demeanour and behind the scenes personality few people know truly just what this man does or who he is.
Players receive “international caps” for every game they play for Canada and it would be a remarkable milestone for any national team athlete to hit 50, 100, or even 150 caps. Yan, however, has 116 international “caps” with the Canadian women’s team and 186 with the men. That’s 302 international matches that Yan has been at with Team Canada.
When you talk to most Canadian hockey team members past and present, they will say that Yan is the team’s biggest fan and one of hockey’s greatest contributors because he’s just always… there! I remember fondly back to the Canadian men’s Olympic cycles leading up to Rio when goalkeeper Dave Carter publicly described Yan as “the nicest man in the world” and that has always stuck with me because I truly can’t think of a better way to describe Yan.
To get a better understanding, it might be easier to rewind a little bit. So, let me take you back. Yan started playing field hockey in France at age 13 and played for a multi-sport club, CASG Paris, a club he still has strong ties with today. Yan spent twenty years playing with the club and very quickly became a coach, club administrator and event organizer. He even worked to produce a weekly newsletter that was full of the club news and best gossip.
It was there that Yan met his wife, Glynis, also a hockey player, and together they came to Canada in 1986. Glynis is Canadian and was a member of Canada’s national squad. Ready to put his playing days behind him, Yan became involved as an umpire and technical official in Ottawa, which he still calls home today. For the record, Glynis is just as much a hockey enthusiast and sports builder and volunteer as Yan, and, together, they have traveled the world working at international sporting events. I could probably write a novel on her, too, but that’s for another day.
In 1997, as the internet was taking off, Yan created Field Hockey Canada’s first website (I know, hard to imagine). It was this website that allowed family, friends, and fans to learn more and follow our Canadian hockey teams and as the years went on even journey back into archives. It was building and maintaining this website that led to Yan’s first media accreditation at the World Cup in Holland for the first, and far from the last time, he paid for the trip and all expenses himself, recognizing that the greatest and priceless privilege at an event is, accreditation.
From here, his journey really took off. A Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) invitation to be a media attaché at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, followed by the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and then an invitation to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester were the first of many major events for Yan.
In 2001, he created a website for the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) and similarly became the father of communications for the federation, going on to cover multiple Pan American Cups, Games and indoor championships. He was also tapped on the shoulder by the FIH to help with media or photography for Olympic Qualifiers; senior, junior and indoor World Cups, and a Champions Trophy.
The wall in his home is testament to the many, many accreditations he has gathered over the years, but beyond the list of events, what has been the most valuable are the accompanying relationships and connections. Of course, he is a walking encyclopedia of Canadian field hockey history having seen many of the greatest moments with his own eyes, but he has also built connections with athletes, officials, media professionals, and volunteers around the world. For example, at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games, Yan met a kind volunteer named Judith Gunion, who travels to volunteer at major games, and since then he has made time to meet up with her at various events including the 2016 Olympics, 2019 Pan American Games, 2022 Commonwealth Games, 2023 Pan Am Games and they will reunite again in 2024 at the Paris Olympics. It’s those moments and the time he takes with each person he meets that truly make this man who he is.
I have always joked that Yan’s day job was being some sort of secret spy because it was always described to me very vaguely – something about a one-of-a-kind software for the Canadian government, more or less. That being said, Yan travels to most international events on his own accord, sometimes getting financed to break even, sometimes not but that’s never stopped him. Interestingly, Yan’s wife Glynis ended up working with Sport Canada as a manager of major games so, how perfect that the two have been able to share the experience of attending many events at the same time starting with the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney where they marched together in both opening and closing ceremonies. 2024 will be a full circle moment when both return to Paris for the Olympic Games in Paris, Yan’s birth place and the city where they first met and played hockey together. They will both be at the hockey venue, Yan as a photographer for the FIH, and Glynis as a volunteer with Athlete Services. Back to the place where it all started, it couldn’t have been scripted any better.
It's hard to put into words how grateful I am for the time and thoughtfulness this man has accorded me. He even traveled to Mexico for my wedding where, of course, he couldn’t help but take behind the scenes photos of a photoshoot we had on the beach. He has mentored and supported many others in the hockey community. Canadian players will often get personalized e-mails with photos of special moments or key memories from long ago. Canadian families are all friends with Yan on Facebook so they can get the photo updates and trips down memory lane. Every hockey fundraiser has Yan Huckendubler’s name listed on it as donor, even if he has had nothing to do with that person or club. Yan has given so much time, energy and frankly, money, to be able to tell the stories of hockey players around the world through words or photos. He’s a humble, generous and thoughtful man who works tirelessly only for the return of smiles and waves when he points his camera at you.
Today is the last game day of the 2023 Pan American Games, and it’s also his seventh and last Pan American Games that he will work. It’s sad but remarkable. He has built personal connections with hockey stars.Argentina star Maico Casella asked kindly for some photos but Yan responded that the dark navy uniforms didn’t really produce very good photos. The next game day, Maico messaged Yan to say they were wearing their light blue uniforms this game so the photos should be better. Of course, Yan sent him some brilliant photos and, of course, Maico posted those on his social media accounts.
It is these little interactions and all the time he takes with the people he meets, and he has met so many, that truly make him the nicest man in the world. He never asks for anything in return because he will tell you that traveling, meeting and connecting with people around the world and seeing the best sport live is enough. I am in awe. I am so grateful. I am so blessed to have been able to work with Yan and have him in my life, as I am sure everyone who has met him feels, too. I’m sure this is not the end because this man never stops but the time seems fitting to take a brief pause to recognize Yan’s contributions and tell a bit of the story of the nicest man in the world.
Thank you, Yan. From everyone in hockey.
About the author: Ali Baggott (Lee) is a former Canadian national field hockey team member who has been working as a communications professional since 2011. Ali has been a media officer at several major events with Yan including the 2013 and 2017 Pan American Cup; 2014 FIH Junior World Cup; 2017 World League R2; 2015, 2019 and 2023 Pan American Games, 2019 Olympic Qualifiers (Vancouver, Canada). Ali has also worked at other major competitions such as the 2014 FIH World Cup in the Hague and the 2019 FISU World Universiade Games in Naples.
A list of Yan’s competitions he was privileged to be involved in:
- 6 Olympic Games: Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 (2021)
- 7 Pan American Games: Winnipeg 1999, Santo Domingo 2003, Rio 2007, Guadalajara 2011, Toronto 2015, Lima 2019 and Santiago 2023
- 6 Commonwealth Games: Manchester 2002, Melbourne 2006, Delhi 2010, Glasgow 2014, Gold Coast 2018 and Birmingham 2022
- 4 World Cups: Utrecht 1998 (M & W), Madrid 2006 (W), Delhi 2010 (M), Bhubaneswar 2018 (M) and Terrassa 2022 (W)
- 5 Indoor World Cups: Leipzig 2003 (M), Vienna 2007 (M & W), Poznan 2011 (M & W), Leipzig 2015 (M & W) and Berlin 2018 (M & W)
- 2 Junior World Cups: Delhi 2013 (M) and Lucknow 2016 (M)
- 4 Pan American Cups: London 2004 (M), Santiago 2009 (M), Brampton 2013 (M), Lancaster 2017 (M & W)
- 3 Indoor Pan American Cups: Rockville 2002 (M & W), Kitchener 2005 (M & W), Georgetown 2017 (M & W)
- 1 Junior Pan American Championship: Toronto 2016 (M)
- 1 Champions Trophy: Kuala Lumpur 2007 (M)
- 1 Champions Challenge : Salta 2009 (M)
- 12 various FIH competition
- PAHF Order of Merit (2023)
- PAHF President’s Award (2007 and 2023)
- FIH Diploma of Merit (2008)
- FIH Certificate of Recognition (2023)