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HOCKEY: New coach, new hope

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, October 6, 2005

He’s been in this position before and succeeded. Now he’s poised to do it all over again.

First-year Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson must turn around a team that finished 5-27-6 in the 2004-05 campaign.

He found himself in a similar situation in 1996, when he was named the senior director of the inaugural U.S. National Development program following a highly successful tenure with Lake Superior State.

One year later, the U.S. Junior National team, led by Jackson, won the silver medal at the 1997 World Junior Championships, the team’s best finish ever.

With a similar challenge at hand, Jackson will get his first look at his team in a game situation with the drop of the puck at the annual Blue/Gold game Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in the Joyce Center.

Jackson has had little time to see his players in on-ice situations but has devoted much study to film from the past year.

“Initial impressions are that we have a lot of work to do, and yet I think that there’s enough ability there for this team to be much better than what they were a year ago,” Jackson said. “It’s just a matter of them working hard and playing with discipline, and the coaches, we’ll be patient trying to get them to improve in a number of areas.”

The new Irish head coach could not have a more illustrious pedigree at his disposal. Jackson led the Lake Superior State Lakers to national titles in 1992 and 1994 and a tough loss in the 1993 final to Maine. He completed a 182-52-25 record with the Lakers and is currently the most successful active college coach, with a .751 winning percentage.

He looks to bring this experience to a young Irish squad and establish a set of guidelines for his team early on.

“I think the biggest thing is going to be related to effort and discipline,” he said. “When I say effort, I am talking about their effort back-checking to the defensive zone, their effort fore-checking … getting in and making some contact and making things happen, their effort on line changes.

“And then to go with that, discipline. I’ve tried to make sure that we don’t go off-sides, that we don’t stay out on the ice for two minutes, that we don’t take bad penalties and not give up odd-man rushes.”

The Blue/Gold game, held annually to open the season, will serve as an extra chance for Jackson and his staff of assistant coaches Paul Pooley, Andy Slaggert and volunteer coach Jim Montgomery to scout their team’s talent. The Irish started on-ice training only last Saturday, and as such, the Irish have had little time to work on the larger aspects of the game.

“The Blue/Gold game is kind of significant, more so this year than past years just because it’s going to be a real evaluator for the coaching staff,” Jackson said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on their individual abilities, to figure out who’s on what line, who’s going to be on the power play, who’s on penalty killing. They don’t have a lot of time to make this team, let alone get into a position where they have a specific role on this team.”

Jackson is looking for something out of his team of which they were previously unaccustomed. He describes an up-tempo style focused on the physical aspect of the game, but one that incorporates discipline as well. The Irish will not tolerate carelessness with the puck on the ice, which lead to deadly odd-man rushes, a severe problem for last year’s icers.

“The physical aspect of the game is evident in all college hockey games, but we have to be willing to take a hit and recover from it in a positive fashion,” Jackson said. “I think that [the players’] willingness to pay the price is going to be the biggest thing that’s going to influence what direction we go with our lineup.”

The price Jackson refers to encompasses not only the physical aspect, but being able to execute all over the ice, from the breakout, to the fore-check, to the back-check. It’s all a matter of taking the right steps in the right direction. And for the time being, Jackson hopes to make strides in the mental arena.

“Their confidence is going to be a huge factor, especially with the schedule we have, with some real tough opponents early on,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for us to develop confidence in them and confidence within the system. I’m hoping that we’ll be a much better team in the second half of the year than we will be in the first half.

“That certainly doesn’t mean that we’re not going to play to win from the get-go, but we’re also going to try to be patient until they understand what we are trying to teach them.”

Notes:

The Irish announced their leadership for the 2005-06 campaign on Wednesday, naming junior right winger T.J. Jindra to the captain position. Seniors Mike Walsh and Chris Trick, along with junior Jason Paige were named alternate captains. Jindra is the 13th player in Irish hockey history to be given the honor as a junior, the last being Evan Nielsen in 2003.

“[Jindra] is the one guy that the upperclassmen point to as the heartbeat of the team,” Jackson said. “He does everything the right way when it comes to playing the game. He’s willing to pay the price, put his face in front of a puck to block a shot, whatever it takes to win a game. You can’t underestimate that when it comes to choosing a leader.”

Jindra has played in 77 games during his career with the Irish, netting eight goals and assisting on 11. Even more impressively, out of his eight Irish goals, four were game-winners. In 2003-04 Jindra joined with fellow captain Paige and Michael Bartlett on the Irish penalty kill to set a Notre Dame record, allowing only 22 goals on 174 penalties, a .876 success percentage.

Walsh netted two goals with eight assists in 36 games in 2004-05.

Paige tallied four goals and three assists in 37 games last season, while Trick contributed three goals and six assists from the blue line in 37 game appearances.