Jeff Jackson postgame B1G Championship 2019 b

A Milestone Within A Moment

By Joanne Norell

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Good things may not always come in threes, but they certainly did Saturday for the University of Notre Dame hockey team.

Head coach Jeff Jackson may just spend more time focusing on the first two and leave the third for others to celebrate.

First, the Irish captured the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament Championship, their second in as many seasons in the conference. The title came via a 3-2 victory over Penn State in front of a record crowd at the Compton Family Ice Arena, with Cam Morrison netting the championship-clinching goal for the second straight year.

Second, the win assured Notre Dame a spot in the NCAA Championship field for a program record fourth straight year.

And the third? Well, that would be Jackson’s 500th win as a Division I head coach. A mere footnote to the famously humble man behind the Notre Dame bench.

“To me, it’s all about these moments,” Jackson said. “These special moments, that’s why you do it. For me, the greatest part of the whole thing is watching the kids, watching them celebrate. I hate watching them lose in these situations. It’s heartbreaking, but on the other side of it, these moments are what it’s all (about). Out of those 500 wins, I’ve been supported by a lot of great coaches and great players. It’s kind of an insignificant number for me.”

The reluctance to relish his own accomplishments, however, is almost surely one of the key reasons Jackson has reached this point in his career. His dedication to his players — and the respect that has earned him — has marked his 20-year collegiate tenure, through 182 wins and two national championships over six seasons at Lake Superior State and another 318 victories, four Frozen Four appearances and two national runner-up showings in 14 years with the Irish.

Take, for example, the case of current Irish forward Joe Wegwerth. When Wegwerth’s season ended in December with a lower-body injury sustained in practice, Jackson made a point to schedule some one-on-one time with the senior. If the conversation turned to hockey, Wegwerth doesn’t remember.

“He’s such a genuine guy,” Wegwerth said. “Right after I got hurt, he invited me over, had dinner one-on-one, didn’t really talk about hockey. He just wanted to see how I was doing, how my family was. … He really, really cares about everyone and by the time you’re a senior or graduated, you really see how much he does for you and how much of an impact he has on your life.”

“In my three years our relationship has only grown,” junior goaltender Cale Morris added after the Big Ten Championship win. “I look at him as a good friend, mentor and someone I can rely on for any situation on-and-off the ice. So he’s definitely someone special to me.”

More than one Irish player also lauded Jackson’s straight-shooting nature. Jackson’s honesty might sometimes give the impression of a gruff exterior to his young proteges, but it’s something they’ve come to appreciate — and even welcome — with maturity.

“He’s always been honest with me,” junior defenseman Tory Dello said. “He’s been there when I’ve been good and he’s told me when I’ve not been good. He’s talked to me like an adult and he definitely pushes me not only on the ice, but academically, too.”

“Now what I thank him for most is not sugarcoating things for me, just being straight with me, being honest,” echoed Wegwerth. “He’s led me the right way and makes me earn everything and that’s what I think he does a good job of, making guys earn what they get here.”And there’s been plenty earned under Jackson’s tutelage since he took over the program in 2005. Not only have 19 former players gone on to play in the National Hockey League, but the program itself has grown exponentially in the 14 years of Jackson’s reign:

  • The Irish captured their first CCHA championship in 2007, earned a second in 2009 and won three CCHA Mason Cup tournament titles (2007, 2009 and 2013) before the dissolution of the conference.

  • Notre Dame qualified for just its second NCAA Championship appearance in 2007 and has made eight since — 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. This season will mark the 10th NCAA appearance of Jackson’s tenure.

  • Notre Dame made its first Frozen Four appearance in 2008, reaching the national title game and finishing as national runner-up to Boston College. The Irish have made three more trips to national semifinals since, in 2011, 2017 and 2018.

  • In 2011, the University exhibited its commitment to Irish hockey with the opening of the Compton Family Ice Arena — one of the nation’s premier collegiate hockey venues. The move was a direct reflection of the success Jackson had brought to the program.

  • In their first year in the Big Ten in 2018, the Irish captured both regular season and tournament league championships, ranking among the nation’s top teams all season en route to their fourth Frozen Four berth and second national runner-up finish.

  • Notre Dame earned its second straight Big Ten tournament title on Saturday, locking up an automatic bid into the NCAA field. The Irish became the first team to win multiple Big Ten Tournament championships since the league’s inception.

“To see where the program’s come in the last 10 years or so, building this brand-new beautiful facility, when you look at the Frozen Fours, national championship games, it’s been pretty incredible to see the changes they’ve made and the progress they’ve made,” said former Irish captain and member of the New York Rangers organization Steven Fogarty (’16). “The future is definitely bright.”

“To be there every year — you’re a national powerhouse,” said Erik Condra (’09), current Dallas Stars right winger. “That’s what we strived to make this program, and that’s what it’s become. It’s turned into a hockey school, with a lot of guys playing pro from Notre Dame, and that didn’t happen before.”

Before he turned Notre Dame hockey into an household brand, Jackson was sustaining a high level of success at Lake Superior State from 1991-96. In that time, he led the Lakers to national titles in 1992 and 1994 (as well as a runner-up run in ’93), two CCHA regular-season championships (1991 and 1996) and four Mason Cup trophies (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1995).

For his efforts, Jackson was thrice named the CCHA Coach of the Year (1991 LSSU, 2007 ND, 2011 ND) and is a two-time winner of the Spencer Penrose Award (2007, 2018), given to the top coach in Division I by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

His coaching prowess extends beyond the collegiate game, however, as the Jackson boasts experience at nearly every level of the game. In 1996, he took over as national coach and senior director of the fledgling U.S. National Team Development program and in his first season, he led the U.S. Junior National Team to a silver medal at the 1997 World Junior Championships. He then went on to serve as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 1998 Nagano Games. Prior to taking over in South Bend, Jackson spent two-and-a-half seasons as head coach of the OHL’s Guelph Storm and two seasons as an assistant with the New York Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played for anybody like that,” Wegwerth said. “He’s got such a reputation around college hockey and USA Hockey in general that you just want to respect him.”

The 500-win milestone puts Jackson — who earlier this season surpassed Lefty Smith as the all-time coaching wins leader in program history — in even more rarefied air. He became just the 18th head coach to reach the 500-win plateau (according to the criteria set in the NCAA record book) and he is the 13th head coach to reach at least 500 wins while coaching solely at the NCAA Div. I level. Jackson currently ranks fourth among active coaches in career wins.

Active Coaching Wins Leaders (min. five years)





Jerry York (Boston College)




Rick Gotkin (Mercyhurst)




Rand Pecknold (Quinnipiac)




Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame)




Bob Daniels (Ferris State)





“It’s been unbelievable what Coach Jackson’s done,” said former Irish goaltender David Brown (’07). “He’s taken the program to astronomical heights. Just look up into the rafters at the banners — we put the first one up in 2007 (with the CCHA Championship) and they’ve continued to do that in the majority of the years moving forward. It was unbelievable to be able to make a mark on the national scene and let everyone know that Notre Dame hockey was for real.”

Indeed, the Irish under Jackson have proven they belong at nearly every turn, from win No. 183 onward.

Perhaps one day he’ll be able to reflect on the enormity of his accomplishments with the care he’s shown to those young men he’s helped develop over the years.

But for now, Jackson is focused on his team — and on win No. 501.