Dane Jackson’s Career Comes Full Circle to Coach Alma Mater

Author: Colin Gratton, for PHPA.com
Date: May 26, 2017

The following article was originally published by PHPA.com on September 26, 2016.  Dane Jackson will serve as an Era Representative (1997 – 2007) during the PHPA 50th Annual Meeting Player Representatives this June 12 – 17 in Orlando, Florida.

 

The universe often has a way of making people and their experiences come full circle in life, which also rings true within the hockey community. University of North Dakota (UND) Associate Head Coach Dane Jackson is no exception to this phenomenon.

During the summer of 1998, a young, gritty and hard-working 18-year old winger, Dane Jackson, was selected 44th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL Entry Draft.  He would go on to attend UND that Fall where he remained for four seasons, taking part in over 150 games, posting 103 points (59 goals, 44 assists), and record 250 penalty minutes before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.  Jackson also served as an Alternate Captain during his senior year and was a WCHA All-Academic selection in 1989-90.

He made his professional hockey debut in 1992 with Vancouver’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate at the time, the Hamilton Canucks, and in the 1993-94 season, finally got his shot to play in the NHL with Vancouver alongside the likes of Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, and others, who would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals that season against the New York Rangers. 

Having grown up in Castlegar, British Columbia, Jackson remembers how exciting it was to play so close to home.  “That was really an exciting opportunity for me to be from BC and to get to play in the NHL with Vancouver.  My parents, brothers, and a lot of friends who lived in Vancouver were able to watch me play. It was a really awesome experience to be able to play in your hometown area.”

What followed would be an enjoyable 11-year professional playing career that included stints in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders as well as several seasons in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, Rochester Americans, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Manchester Monarchs. Jackson was named team Captain an astounding five different times throughout his professional career, an honour which he mainly attributes to experience.

“When I was a little bit older in my career, I realized I wasn’t really going to be a full-time NHLer so I took a lot of pride and interest in trying to help young guys or other teammates along the way.  Just helping to mentor and encourage them to be as good as they can be to get to the National Hockey League level. I wanted to win but I put a lot of importance on trying to help.”

In 1996, while playing alongside his old college line mate Dixon Ward, Jackson contributed 11 points in 10 post-season games to help lead the Rochester Americans to the Calder Cup Championship. For Jackson, winning that Championship could not have been more dramatic or exciting.

“For me, that was my most exciting hockey accomplishment, to win with a group of guys that you go to battle with night in and night out throughout the playoffs.  It was a long playoff battle but we won Game 7 at home against Portland 2-1. Our coach was John Tortorella while Barry Trotz was the coach of Portland, and there were a lot of great players in that series.  We had unbelievable support from the city and fans and it just felt good to accomplish something that we all set our sights on and worked really hard to get.”

While mentoring teammates on the ice, Jackson’s leadership thrived off the ice through his committed involvement to the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA). In fact, to this day, Jackson has attended the PHPA Annual Meeting of Player Representatives more times than any other player with 8 consecutive appearances from 1995-2002. Jackson credits his father for his interest in labour relations and negotiations.

“My Dad was involved in labour relations and had always encouraged me to get involved and know what’s going with our union.  Fairly early in my career, I just kind of took an interest in what Larry Landon and the staff at the PHPA were doing in trying to help protect and advance our Membership.”

He also recalls some fond experiences while attending the PHPA Annual Meetings.  “I think we did a lot of good work during those days.  And we had a lot of fun as well at the golf courses and outside of the meetings. There were a lot of good relationships that were built with the staff at the PHPA and also with other Player Representatives who you battle with on the ice all year.  There you got to know them on a personal level which was pretty special.”

Jackson’s involvement with the PHPA helped initiate the establishment of several key programs such as a 401k plan for players, a comprehensive health benefits package, as well as the Career Enhancement Program to help players prepare for life after hockey.

It has now been 20 years since Jackson first became involved with the PHPA but he still believes strongly in the organization’s capability to represent and care for its players.  “I think it’s a very good organization that really does have the players’ welfare at the forefront and are always working to try to help guys get their fair benefits. If you compare minor league hockey to other minor league sports I think we’re far ahead in terms of benefits, compensation, and the way players are treated.”

During his final two seasons of professional hockey, Jackson played with the Manchester Monarchs under the supervision of Coach Bruce Boudreau. Upon announcing his retirement as a player, Jackson was surprised to receive a call from Boudreau offering him the opportunity to coach with him the next season.

“Strangely enough, I don’t think I ever really had a huge desire to be a coach. I thought I was going to work in finance with my degree from North Dakota. It was a bit of a surprise when the Monarchs came to me with that offer but it was a great opportunity and I was really fortunate to go and coach at that high of a level right away.”

When asked what it was like to then coach the players he just played with the previous year, Jackson found the question intriguing.

“It was kind of hard to all of a sudden be coaching the guys you were just in the room with and hanging out with.  There is a lot of ‘we, us, and our’ mentality between coaches and players, but there still needs to be that degree of separation. It was tough for me emotionally because a big part of why I loved playing was the camaraderie of players and that’s a big change to go into the coaches locker room and not the players.”

Although it was a personal challenge, Jackson reflects on how fortunate he was to have the support of his teammates.  “The guys were really good about it, I think they understood and were still friendly at the rink and I developed the respect of my former teammates. It just wasn’t going to be the same as going out and having beers with the guys anymore. Overall, they were outstanding and really supportive and receptive to me trying to help them while I was still trying to develop my own kind of coaching style.”

Now, after coming full circle to coach his alma mater having recently completed his 10th season as Assistant Coach with UND, Jackson talks about what it is about the collegiate hockey program that keeps him motivated and excited for the future.

“It’s really great [college hockey] from a coaching aspect because the guys are so receptive and so eager to learn.  I really enjoy the fact that we also get to recruit the players we coach. In pro hockey, when you coach, you’re kind of just given a group of players. At the college level, we get to recruit and coach so you’re really in control of the whole process.”

He believes that having complete control over the process allows the coaches to mold their team as well as the desired culture within the dressing room.  “College level hockey players are at a very receptive age where they want to get better and work hard on their individual game.”

One of Jackson’s current players, defenseman Danys Chartrand is entering his sophomore year with the team under Jackson’s leadership. When asked about his ‘Bench Boss’, Chartrand offered a glowing review.

“He’s a great ‘players’ coach in that he is very approachable. We think of him as one of the guys. You can talk to him about anything and he’s always willing to go on the  ice with you one-on-one to work on an aspect of your game no matter what time it is during the day.”

So what advice does Dane Jackson, the former player turned coach, have for players who may be seeking a future career in coaching?

“You have to be willing to move and adapt but I think the biggest thing is that if you’re passionate about what you do and work hard to develop your skills, you will do well.”

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