The next individual in our Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey spotlight series isn’t a player, but head coach Jeff Jackson. Jackson is in his thirteenth year as head coach of the Irish, and in my opinion deserves credit for putting Notre Dame hockey on the map. At a school where national success is expected from a wide variety of athletics, he’s as important to the hockey program as any other Fighting Irish coach has been to their sport.
A native of the Detroit suburb of Roseville, Michigan, Jackson spent the early part of his coaching career in his home state where he instantly found success. Three years into being an assistant coach for the Lake Superior State Lakers in 1988, the Lakers won their first national championship after making their first Frozen Four appearance. In 1990, Jackson was promoted to head coach and the Lakers would go on to win two more national championships in 1992 and 1994 while he was behind the bench. To this day, all four of the school’s Frozen Four appearances have come during Jackson’s time at Lake State.
Jackson left the Lakers in 1996 to pursue an opportunity with the US National Team Development Program as the national coach and director for four years. Following his time in Ann Arbor, MI under this role, he spent three years with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, coaching the likes of Craig Anderson and Dustin Brown. His last stop before South Bend was as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders from 2003-2005.
Jackson was named Notre Dame’s 8th head hockey coach prior to the 2005-06 season. The season before Jackson arrived, Notre Dame hockey had their worst season in school history, going 5-27-6 and finishing dead last in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association conference. Prior to his arrival, the Irish had only one NCAA tournament appearance and had never won a conference championship. It didn’t take long for him to turn things around. In just his second year, the Irish were ranked number one in both college hockey polls for the first time in school history en route to winning their first CCHA regular season and tournament championships.
Another milestone was reached in his third year, as he led Notre Dame to their first Frozen Four appearance in school history. In that year’s Frozen Four, the Irish defeated the Michigan Wolverines in overtime but fell to the Boston College Eagles 4-1 in the national championship game, thus far Notre Dame’s only appearance in the title game. The success continued for Jackson’s team in his fourth season, when the Irish again won both the regular season and conference tournament of the CCHA.
The second of Jackson’s three Frozen Four appearances with Notre Dame came in 2011 but the Irish fell to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the national semifinals. In 2013, the final year of the CCHA, Jackson’s Irish closed out the conference by winning the final CCHA tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. ND would spend the next four seasons in the Hockey East conference. In their final year as a member of the Hockey East, Jackson led the Irish to the 2017 Frozen Four where they fell to eventual champions, the Denver Pioneers. This season, his team is ranked number one in both college hockey polls and is a threat to return to the Frozen Four, which would be his seventh appearance as a head coach.
If you follow Jackson on Twitter, you can see how supportive he is of his own. He’s constantly congratulating current and former Notre Dame hockey players on their achievements and wishing them luck in whatever they may have going on. College hockey doesn’t have the turnover that you see in the NHL when it comes to coaches. When bringing someone in, it’s important to have a coach who can lead your program to success, and be a great mentor and teacher in the process. The Irish are lucky to have someone who has done both, this is a coach who is clearly proud to be part of the Notre Dame family,
Prior to getting into coaching, Jackson played for the Michigan State Spartans until injuring his ankle his sophomore year. Eventually, he became an assistant under legendary Spartan coach Ron Mason prior to going to Lake Superior State. At age 62, Jackson is the same age Mason was at the time of his retirement from coaching. However, he is showing no signs of slowing down, remaining a fiery personality behind the bench and sticking up for his players when needed. For all he’s accomplished for the program as the school’s winningest coach, when the day comes for the Notre Dame hockey team to win its first national championship, Jeff Jackson deserves to be the one to raise the trophy.