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Hockey: Win means little to Jackson

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Saturday night’s 2-0 shutout of Air Force was anything but an ordinary win for Irish coach Jeff Jackson – and he had no idea.

The victory to take the first-annual Lightning College Hockey Classic was No. 10 Notre Dame’s first in-season tournament win in 25 years. But more importantly, it gave Jackson his 200th career win.

He reached the mark with a winning percentage of .714 – the highest percentage among all active Division-I coaches with at least five years experience.

The 51-year-old coach needed seven seasons and six games to reach the milestone. To put that in perspective, the two winningest active coaches in the NCAA, Boston College’s Jerry York and Boston University’s Jack Parker, needed 11 and 10 years, respectively, to reach the 200 win plateau.

“It’s such an overrated statistic,” Jackson said. “I’ve been behind the bench for 200 wins, and that’s all the significance to it.”

The humble Jackson wasn’t even aware he had reached the mark until his players presented him with the game puck after the final buzzer.

Jackson’s career started at Lake Superior State when he took over the head coaching job in 1990 after four years as an assistant. Jackson’s Lakers won the CCHA regular season and tournament title after racking up 33 wins in his first season.

In one of Jackson’s most memorable wins, the Lakers beat Michigan in an overtime game at Joe Louis Arena in 1991 to take home the CCHA crown.

“That group of 10 seniors were all my recruits as freshman, and I got to coach them in their final year,” Jackson said. “Scoring that overtime goal in a great game meant a lot to me.”

Jackson’s other favorite game, also an overtime win, was over the Wolverines in 1994. This time the two powerhouses met in the NCAA regional round at Jackson’s alma mater, Michigan State.

After six years, four CCHA titles, and two national championships with Lake Superior, Jackson decided to leave the college game to head the U.S. National Junior program, where he won a silver medal. He spent the next decade coaching major juniors in Canada and in the NHL before the Irish signed him in 2005.

“I’m glad I did what I did,” Jackson said. “I got a chance to see the world and represent my country in the game I’m passionate about. It has all been a real positive learning experience.”

That wealth of knowledge has allowed Jackson to turn around a struggling program in just over a year. He inherited a team that had won five games in its previous season in 2004 – it took the Irish only six games to reach that mark in 2006.

“Coach really puts the team first,” sophomore center Christian Hanson said. “He has shown us that an all star doesn’t make a team – a team makes an all star.”

Hanson had the game-winning goal in Saturday’s Air Force game and was also named tournament MVP.

Jackson isn’t sure he will stick around long enough to catch the likes of York or Parker, 753 and 744 wins respectively, but he and his team will start this weekend by looking for No. 201 and No. 202 against Ohio State.