Times at Notre Dame
DAME, Ind. – Judging from his facial expressions during
a game, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson looks more like a
guy getting a tetanus shot, not one coaching the best team
in the CCHA. His stoic demeanor and matter-of-fact tone
while discussing another win with reporters following a
game better suits someone reading tax code aloud, not one
whose squad has a terrific chance of earning a top seed
in the NCAA Tournament.
Outward appearances notwithstanding, the man
one veteran CCHA media member sarcastically dubbed "Mr.
Happy" is having fun. Sort of.
“I think it was [Boston University coach]
Jackie Parker who said, ‘This would be a great job
if it wasn’t for the weekends,’” Jackson
told a visitor to his office following the Fighting Irish’s
2-2 draw with Miami.
Jackson’s curmudgeonly demeanor was
justified for most of Saturday's game against the RedHawks,
the CCHA’s second-place team. The Irish, who normally
run their systems with clinical-like precision, treated
the puck like Nick Saban does a job commitment. They had
a five-on-three advantage for nearly three minutes –
including a full two-minute, two-man advantage early in
the second period – but couldn't convert. Miami scored
its second goal when goaltender David Brown attempted to
glove a shot ... only to have the puck clang off his mitt
and onto the stick of Brian Kaufman.
|Jeff Jackson has Notre Dame on
the verge of its first CCHA regular-season title.
But like nearly everything else during this
magical season, Notre Dame’s fortunes turned for the
better. The Irish, who pressured Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff
relentlessly in the third period, finally broke through
with a little more than six minutes remaining in regulation
when Mark Van Guilder scored off a face-off play. On a draw
to Zatkoff’s left, Jason Paige pulled the puck back
to Wes O'Neill, who threaded a feed to Van Guilder for an
About four minutes later, freshman forward
Kevin Deeth got to a loose puck about five feet in front
of the Miami goal and lunged toward it, getting just enough
of his stick on it to allow it to wobble past a tumbling
Zatkoff for the tying score. Deeth’s goal came during
his first shift following a benching by Jackson –
the coach sat Deeth, who became frustrated by scoring chances
continually negated by Zatkoff, until he regained his composure.
“He’s super intense,” said
Deeth, who was about six weeks shy of his seventh birthday
when Jackson guided Lake Superior State to the 1994 national
championship, “He’s a straightforward guy who
knows the game and teaches the game really well. That’s
how coaches earn respect from their players.”
Jackson’s done more than earn his players’
respect. He’s also turned the kooky Joyce Center into
the place to be on winter weekends in South Bend. More than
2,700 boisterous fans crammed into the glorified intramural
facility, including people lined three deep in standing-room
only spots on the corners of the rink.
“It’s an indication of what’s
to come,” Jackson said. “We need a new rink,
and we’re getting a new rink. Like the saying goes,
if you build it, they will come. We’ve waited for
So he’s got Notre Dame on track for
its first CCHA regular-season championship. The school’s
second NCAA Tournament bid is virtually assured. Brown,
his goaltender, is a Hobey Baker Award candidate, and sophomore
forward Erik Condra has All-American credentials. A boatload
of high-end recruits are on board for next season and beyond.
The rink’s been packed all season long, and a new
barn is likely on the way.
But is Jackson having fun?
“It’s hard to have fun when
you’re involved in the day-to-day operations of running
a program,” he explains. “The most fun is being
around the kids, the staff, and the people you care about.”
*cry* If my beloved Gophs
can win the whole darned NCAA tourney this year, can we
please put the Holy Cross debacle to rest? *sniffle* –
Brandon Lukach; Redondo Beach, Calif.
Cry? Sniffle? Are you Brian Gionta trying
to draw a penalty?
The answer to your question, Brandon, is no.
The loss to Holy Cross in the first round of last year’s
NCAA Tournament is so odiferous that no amount of success
can eliminate the stench.
Listen, it’s been more than a decade
since the NCAA busted Maine for cheating, but the Black
Bears will always be known as cheaters. New Hampshire has
been one of college hockey’s most consistent programs
over the past 10 years, but the Wildcats are stigmatized
as chokers because they’ve never won an NCAA title.
Cincinnati could become overrun with
supermodels, give everyone who moves there a free plasma
TV and pass a city law mandating quarter taps all day, every
day … but hockey fans will remember it as the worst
Frozen Four host ever.
The bottom line, dude, is you’re stuck
with it. Tough.
With Jeff Jackson doing so well
at Notre Dame this year, how well do you think he would
have done with the Notre Dame team of a few years ago –
the one that went to the NCAA Tournament? That year they
had solid goaltending in [Morgan] Cey and [David] Brown,
had a solid top four set of defensemen (two of whom are
in the AHL, one is in the NHL, and the fourth is [Wes] O'Neill),
and a solid set of forwards. – Mike; Los Angeles
Intriguing question. It’s hard to say
if he would’ve done better – Dave Poulin did
a pretty good job with that club, especially considering
Brown, then a freshman, was thrust into the no. 1 goaltender
role when Cey hurt his knee early in the season. Other than
a regular-season win here or there, would Jackson have made
an appreciable difference? I doubt it. In retrospect, that
Fighting Irish team probably reached its ceiling by making
the NCAA Tournament.
If you're [sic] rankings reflect
how teams are playing now, you've got the Sioux WAY too
low. All phases of their games are falling into place and
the impressive road sweep at Minnesota reflects that. They
have the longest unbeaten streak right now in the country
as well. No. 15 isn't where UND should be ranked, guys.
– Virg Foss; Grand Forks, N.D.
Always nice to get a note from the former
Sioux hockey beat writer. This is like getting an e-mail
from Dick Cheney criticizing my stance on Halliburton. Anyway,
Virg, you answered your question in the first phrase of
your missive – our rankings don’t reflect how
teams are playing now. They encompass a team’s entire
body of work from the first game of the season.
Has North Dakota played extremely well in
its last 10 games? No question. But they flat out stunk
in the eight games before that when they went 1-7-0. Can’t
ignore that, either. Think of it this way: Is it right to
judge Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s acting career based solely
on his performance in “Jerry Maguire?” Nope.
We’ve got to factor “Rat Race” and “Boat
Trip” into the equation, too.
This is great. Whenever someone e-mails
me asking why we ranked Hometown State so low, at least
in his or her opinion, I can reply with three words: Cuba
GOTTA GO SOMEWHERE...
Like the NHL on Versus, you've gotta look for
awhile before you find 'em.
• The NCAA, the
organization continues to use one hand to stab its member
institutions in the back while grabbing money with the other,
announcing this week that the title sponsor of the Frozen
Four Skills Challenge is – tada! –
Pontiac, the automobile manufacturer named after a 19th
century Indian leader. The bottom line here is the NCAA
is opposed to Native American names and imagery it deems
“hostile and offensive,” except when cash accompanies
said names and imagery.
• Memo to Fighting
Sioux fans: Since I purchased a North Dakota toque during
the holidays, your team snapped a four-game losing streak
and pulled out of a 2-7-1 skid by going 8-1-1 over the last
10 games. Of course, I’ve had a Merrimack sweater
for five years and it hasn’t helped them a damn bit.
• The Jan. 18
San Francisco Chronicle reports that the NCAA is
tinkering with the idea of moving the women’s basketball
tournament back one week, putting its semifinals and finals
on the same weekend (or in the same vicinity, at the very
least) as the Frozen Four. The NCAA feels that the overlap
with the men’s hoops tournament hurts the women’s
tournament – highly improbable, since the audience
for March Madness isn’t likely to turn its attention
to women’s basketball after the Final Four. If the
NCAA thinks making a move is necessary, that’s fine,
as long as it doesn’t mess with Frozen Four broadcasts
on ESPN2 and ESPN. College hockey needs to vigorously protect
its limited time on the national stage.
• The Hockey Commissioners’
Association (which is just a formal name for the six league
commissioners) announced this week they’ll hand out
two national awards in April. One honors the country’s
best freshman – in an inspired bit of branding, it’s
called the National Rookie of the Year Award – while
the other is the Unsung Hero Award, presented to the “consummate
team player and team builder” according to the HCA
It’s a nice idea, but there’s
one problem: Once a player is announced as the Unsung Hero
Award winner, he’s no longer unsung. So by accepting
the award, does he become ineligible because his unsung
status has been compromised? In order to embrace the notion
of being an unsung hero, the award winner should never be
made public – no press releases, no ceremony, nothing.
The commissioners should just send the trophy to the winner’s
house. Then if he has visitors or something, he can tell
them about it.
“Hey, man … nice trophy. What’s
“Oh, I was the national Unsung Hero
Award winner in college hockey a couple years ago.”
“Really? I’m a big college hockey
fan and I never heard about it.”
“That’s because it was the Unsung
• The aforementioned
question regarding Jeff Jackson and Notre Dame brings to
mind another hypothetical situation posed recently by Kevin
Gordon of the Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune. Gordon
remarked that a couple CCHA coaches bumped into each other
on the recruiting trail and began talking about how many
points Sidney Crosby would score in one college season.
The consensus was that Sid the Kid would reach the century
mark, which would require averaging 2.5 points per game
over the course of a 40-game season. As a passenger on the
Alexander Ovechkin bandwagon – up near the front,
too – I speculated the 2006 NHL Rookie of the Year
would score 60 goals playing a college schedule.
• This certainly
pales in comparison to Beer
Darts, the official leisure-time activity of
Inside College Hockey, but this
version of air hockey played on actual ice
is interesting nonetheless. I have neither the stick-to-it-iveness
nor the carpentry skills to carry out such a project, but
good luck to anyone who can. And if you manage to pull it
off, let me know how it goes. Also, thanks to Melanie in
San Diego for sending the link.
likes lists. Sometimes, the Meaning-List will be relevant
to college hockey. Other times it’ll be, well, meaningless.
Five Albums I've Purchased
Shins – "Wincing the Night Away": When's
the last time a good band came out of Albuquerque? Anyway,
the dudes who gave us "New Slang" (which appeared
on the soundtrack for the movie "Garden State")
are back. Solid effort all around.
Beatles – "Love": Purists won't
like this disc because producers Sir George Martin and
son, Giles, were given free reign to remix 25 classic
tracks as they saw fit. There are some gems and some
duds, but it certainly attests to the timelessness of
the group's music.
Mouse – "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even
Sank": This is one of those iTunes purchases
where you don't get the full album for another two months,
but you are allowed to grab the first single. In this
case, it's called "Dashboard."
on the Radio – "Return to Cookie Mountain":
The song "Wolf Like Me" is one of
those you can listen to about 10 times in a row and
not get tired of it.
Class Heroes – "As Cruel as School Children":
A hip-hop act out of Geneva, N.Y. (much love
Hobart and William Smith Colleges), GCH's best-known
tune to date is "Cupid's Chokehold," which
is on this album but originally appeared on the group's
"Papercut Chronicles" disc from two years
ago. These guys worry me, though, because the last time
I latched onto an emerging hip-hop group, it was the
Black-Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie) in 2000.