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Hockey: Irish coaches share past

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jeff Jackson, Paul Pooley and Jim Montgomery work from the same clipboard nowadays, but the trio have not always seen eye to eye.

The 1993 National Championship game found the three pitted against one another, as Jackson and Pooley’s Lake Superior State Lakers played against one of the greatest college hockey teams ever assembled in Jim Montgomery’s Maine Black Bears.

The Black Bears were populated with Olympic and later NHL goaltenders Garth Snow and Mike Dunham and current NHL star Paul Kariya.

Montgomery, now an Irish volunteer assistant coach, captained Maine to a 42-1-2 record in 1992-93 and now holds fourth place in the NCAA in career points (301) and assists (198). Jackson was the head coach of the defending national champion Lakers, while Pooley served as associate head coach.

What followed in that title game was possibly one of the greatest comebacks ever engineered.

The Lakers exploded in the second period by scoring three goals and moved into a 4-2 lead at the second intermission. It was the only two-goal deficit Maine had faced all year, and Montgomery knew his Black Bears could not end their dream season in this way.

“I turned to my two linemates, Cal Ingraham and Paul Kariya, and said, ‘We have to win this game.'”

Montgomery stormed into the third and blew away the Lakers with three goals in the matter of five minutes, all on assists by Kariya. Maine inserted Snow into net for Dunham, and Snow stood on his head as Maine captured the crown with a 5-4 victory.

“After that goal, I kinda reacted like a soccer player in Europe. I didn’t know what to do,” Montgomery said of scoring the winning goal from a perfectly-timed Kariya pass. “It was very odd, I usually just celebrate by jumping into a teammate’s arms right away. But it was just euphoric.”

The cause of that euphoria cemented Montgomery and his entire Black Bear team into college hockey lore, but Jackson, Pooley and the Lakers refused to go away silently and rebounded in 1994 to take their second national championship in three years.

The Montreal native was a Hobey Baker award finalist that year, but the trophy went to Kariya, and Montgomery went on to a 12-year pro career.

“I tease him every once in a while and show him some rookie cards I have of me scoring against Lake State,” Montgomery said when asked if he ever gives Jackson or Pooley a hard time about the game.

The right decision

After retiring from pro hockey last season, Montgomery immediately embarked upon the coaching path, something he had been interested in since his days with legendary Maine coach Shawn Walsh.

He had always intended to return to Maine and work with Walsh upon retiring, but Walsh passed away several years ago, and Montgomery was forced to look elsewhere. He recalled conversations with Walsh from his college days when the coach would remark that Lake Superior’s Jackson was the best in the business and had much to offer.

Montgomery contacted Jackson a short time after Jackson accepted the Irish head coaching position, and the two worked out an agreement for Montgomery to become Notre Dame’s volunteer assistant coach.

Montgomery turned down full-time assistant coaching jobs at other schools, including Quinnipiac, to learn from Jackson.

“There’s no question I made the right decision,” Montgomery said of coming to Notre Dame. “Because not only from [Jackson], but the complements of Paul Pooley and Andy Slaggert, I’m learning from three great hockey minds everyday.”

The new volunteer assistant helps out in any way he can – from the offensive drills, to goalie drills, to the power play and penalty kill.

“I’m a puck-pusher, that’s what I call it,” he jokes.

Jackson values the knowledge of the game he brings to the arena everyday. He also notes that Montgomery has a great eye for talent – Jackson said that he was the first to point out freshman Erik Condra as “being a real sharp player.”

“Being younger, I thought [the players] could use him as somebody to vent to and to communicate with on a different level,” Jackson said of Montgomery. “And have someone they could relate to a little bit closer to their age and to their playing experience.”

Back together again

Paul Pooley comes to Notre Dame as associate head coach after spending the past 11 years as head coach of Providence College, a perennial contender in the Hockey East. Pooley led the Friars to one Hockey East title and two NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure.

Montgomery is not the only former college star on the Irish hockey staff. Pooley was an All-American at Ohio State, selected CCHA player of the year his senior year and Bauer national player of the year. He holds Ohio State records in goals (114), assists (156) and points (270).

Pooley and Jackson had talked prior to this season about getting back together to relive the magic they had captured at Lake Superior in the early ’90s, but the talk was never directed about Notre Dame.

When Jackson won the Irish job, he contacted Pooley, and the two went through the process of making Pooley the newest addition to the Notre Dame community.

Jackson attributes much of their success with the Lakers to Pooley and the professionalism he brings to the game.

“I thought he’d be a perfect match for Notre Dame, just because he’s a class act. He has great integrity,” Jackson said. “I think that he represents the University and he represents this hockey program in an outstanding way, whether it’s in a recruit’s home or whether he’s dealing with an alumnus, dealing with our players, or dealing with a professor on campus.”

Pooley was motivated to move to Notre Dame by numerous reasons, foremost of which was a chance to work with Jackson again.

“You never get an opportunity to work with your mentor again very often in your life,” he said.

“To be successful”

Notre Dame – its resources and its location – played a big role in Pooley’s decision as well. The family environment the University and the region provides and the resources and prestige the institution is privy to all convinced Pooley that Notre Dame was the place to be.

“The biggest thing is to move the program forward,” Pooley said of his goals for Irish hockey. “We’re here for a specific reason, I tell people, to be successful. I think that this school and the academics speak for itself.”

Both assistant coaches stress that one of the greatest advantages to being with this Irish program is to be able to learn from a master of his craft in Jackson.

Montgomery has recorded various things he has learned from Jackson and the rest of the staff so far this season, and his computer is already cluttered with the valuable information.

“I’m here to support him and help him and give him my expertise in any area I can,” Pooley said of assisting Jackson. “But I take my guidance from him, and if I can help him, that’s the biggest thing.”

This staff and the team it guides will face their next challenge starting tonight against the Bowling Green Falcons at 7:35 in the Joyce Center. The two teams will play the first two games of a four-game season series starting with tonight and a second game on Friday night.

The Irish finished 0-3-1 against the Falcons, their CCHA cluster mates, last year. As partners in a cluster, the two teams will play four games with each other during the course of the season, two at each team’s arena.

Bowling Green currently holds a 2-4-1 record, coming off a two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.

Jackson and crew are at the beginning of a new era in Irish hockey – an era that they intend to fill with a CCHA Championship and serious runs for the national crown – but for now, they take each weekend’s fortunes or misfortunes and try to improve.

“I think we work well,” Pooley said. “I think we feed off each other.”