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Hockey Column: Just how good is Jackson? Success speaks for itself

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Is there a better college hockey coach than Jeff Jackson?

Simply put, no.

Midway through his fourth year at Notre Dame, Jackson has already elevated the program from an occasional contender to a perennial power in the CCHA, one of the nation’s top conferences. And after last year’s Frozen Four run, the Irish have proven they can be a force on the national scene as well.

Looking at Jackson’s résumé, that comes as no surprise.

He’s coached – and won – at every level, from the Canadian junior league to the National Hockey League, where he was an assistant with the New York Islanders for two seasons. Jackson headed the U.S. National Team Developmental Program for five years, and as head coach won a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 1997.

And in the early 1990s, Jackson won two national titles and 75 percent of his games in six seasons as the boss at Lake Superior State.

How many Notre Dame students have even heard of Lake Superior State?

But in a sense, that was the college hockey world’s view of the Irish program before Jackson took over in 2005; the previous year, Notre Dame had won just five games and had been all but dismissed from relevance.

Immediately, Jackson made an impact. The Irish went 13-19-4 in Jackson’s first year, nearly tripling their previous win total in the only losing season of Jackson’s head-coaching career.

The next year, with stud goaltender David Brown between the pipes, the Irish set a new “Gold Standard” – a slogan that graces many a sign around the team’s locker room and offices – by winning 32 games, posting a .898 winning percentage and holding the top spot in the national polls for seven straight weeks.

And last year, with a new goalie (current netminder Jordan Pearce, who has since emerged as one of the CCHA’s best) and a shallow senior class (which overachieved but lacked highly-recruited players because of the coaching change), Jackson did perhaps his best coaching job – guiding a team that barely made the NCAA tournament as the last at-large selection all the way to the Frozen Four, past top-ranked Michigan and into the title game.

The ’07-’08 Irish may have been a Cinderella story, but midnight has long since past, and Notre Dame is still standing strong. With a 20-game unbeaten streak and a No. 1 national ranking it has held for six straight weeks, the program is clearly here to stay – as long as Jackson is (which appears to be the case).

Just how dominant have the Irish been? They haven’t lost a game they have led after two periods, and Notre Dame ranks in the top five nationally of every major statistical category except for scoring offense – for which the Irish rank eighth.

And just how long have the Irish been that dominant?

They haven’t lost since Oct. 25 – the day the football team beat Washington. Since that day, the football team ended its season (and lost four more times) and the men’s basketball team began its campaign (and has lost five times).

A new president has been elected and inaugurated in that time, in case you’ve been too consumed with the Irish hockey team’s streak.

That’s the great thing about the team’s success, too – students are taking notice. Games are selling out, and general interest and enthusiasm for the program is quickly rising, thanks mostly to the positive results Jackson’s teams have posted in such a short timeframe.

Jackson doesn’t have the football team’s budget or the new facilities several other Notre Dame programs have received in recent years – the hockey team’s facilities are regarded as among the worst in college hockey, but that’s another (less positive) column.

But that hasn’t stopped Jackson from bringing talented players and, more importantly, wins to Notre Dame. He’s already helped bring CCHA championship and Frozen Four banners to the Joyce Center, and he’ll get his national championship soon enough.


He’s the best coach in college hockey – it’s what he does.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Gamber at [email protected]