At Home Under the Golden Dome
been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere"— Johnny Cash
Unlike the subject
of the Man in Black’s ode to the road, Jeff Jackson may
or may not have passed through Opelika, Baraboo or Waterloo between
the spring of 1996 and last Friday.
Since stepping down
as Lake Superior State’s head coach nearly a decade ago,
however, Jackson has visited Bavaria, Sarnia, Nagano and Buffalo
during stints with USA Hockey, the Ontario Hockey League’s
Guelph Storm and the NHL’s New York Islanders. Those experiences
were certainly memorable, but not in comparison to the college
game – which is one of the main reasons the 49-year-old
zeroed in on the coaching vacancy at Notre Dame, a job he secured
relationship you establish with college players is not similar
at any level,” Jackson said. “You’re able to
have an impact in their lives on and off the ice.”
within the last year steeled Jackson’s resolve to get back
into the NCAA coaching ranks. The first was last summer’s
10-year reunion of the Lake Superior State team that won the 1994
national championship. The second was the passing of Tim Breslin,
a senior on Jackson’s first team at LSSU. About two dozen
former Lakers showed up in suburban Chicago for their former teammate’s
Valentine’s Day funeral.
“Those two things
made me recognize how much I missed [college hockey].” Jackson
Though his desire to
get back to the college game was strong, Jackson wasn’t
going to jump headfirst into just any situation. It had to be
a job in which he could succeed. When two coaching legends –
Jeff Sauer at Wisconsin and Michigan State’s Ron Mason –
stepped down, Jackson poked around to gauge the school’s
interest in him.
Then came Notre Dame.
On the surface, the job seems light years away from those at MSU
and Wisconsin, but Jackson saw things differently.
about the potential,” Jackson said. “This is one of
the top academic institutions in the country, and that’s
important. The most important thing we have to sell is the university
and the quality of the education.”
Sure, a Notre Dame
education is invaluable, but recruits get starry-eyed from bells
and whistles like 25-person Jacuzzis, tricked-out locker rooms
that could double as P. Diddy’s den and training facilities
the size of the average Wal-Mart. The Joyce Center? Well…it
has a roof. Indoor plumbing, too.
has committed $14-to-15 million toward the facility,” Jackson
said. “But we need to start building a program first. I
don’t want the facility to be an obstacle to having success
early on. The old Norris Center at Lake Superior State was not
much different than the Joyce Center.
is done in three or four years, we can get in there with a solid
program. We want to take it to the elite level.”
Jackson believes the
Fighting Irish aren’t far from taking that next step, despite
the team’s 5-27-6 mark and season-ending 19-game winless
streak in 2004-05. With all but three players returning from last
year’s squad, the cupboards certainly aren’t bare.
The continued maturation of defenseman Wes O’Neill, who
blossomed as a sophomore, is important, and similar growth from
highly touted forward Victor Oreskovich is necessary. So, too,
are strong efforts from forward Mike Walsh and goaltender David
Brown, both of whom slumped miserably last season. And among the
incoming recruits are two of the USHL’s top point-getters
(Lincoln’s Erik Condra and Tri-City’s Christian Hanson)
and one of the circuit’s goal-scoring leaders (Waterloo’s
watching for an elite-level college program where I thought something
special can happen,” Jackson said. “I think Notre
Dame can be that place.”
If so, the
Fighting Irish will follow their coach to destinations with which
he is thoroughly familiar – places like Albany, Worcester
and St. Paul.