It was a bittersweet moment this summer when St. Albert Saints General Manager Marcel Viveiros got word that Mark Jackson would not be joining the club for the 1999-2000 season.
“I’m really happy for Mark. I’m sad to see him go but I wish him nothing but the best,” said Viveiros. “Mark’s another example of how successful our program has been over the years in terms of players earning hockey scholarships in the United States.”
While it was difficult to lose a budding superstar like Jackson, the role of the Alberta Junior Hockey League is to develop people and players alike for the challenges they may experience.
For Jackson, going to the University of Wisconsin and joining fellow Saints grads Steve Reinprecht (94-96), Dave Hukalo (95-98) and Scott Kabotoff (97-99) will certainly be a challenging endeavour – especially considering that he is entering the college one year earlier than expected.
“I’m very excited. It’s going to be great. I can’t wait. I want to get on with it and go to the next level,” Jackson told the St. Albert Gazette prior to departing for Madison in late August.
There were doubts over whether or not Jackson would be able to play with the Badgers this season as him joining the team hinged upon Carolina Hurricanes draft pick David Tanabe leaving the club to go pro. When Tanabe did leave, Jackson jumped at the opportunity. “It was frustrating just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring,” he said.
While Jackson only ended up spending on year in St. Albert, it was met with tremendous progress. Coming from the St. Albert Raiders (Midget AAA) to try out with the Saints, he was not even a lock to make the club.
However, he did make it and he gradually grew to the point where he was a key cog in the club’s drive to the AJHL finals in 1998-99. A goal he scored in the opening round of the playoffs against the Grande Prairie Storm helped to vault the club into the Northern Division Finals. He lists the goal, which was scored in overtime to give the club a 3-1 series lead and a stranglehold on the series, as his greatest moment in hockey to-date.
“It’s the biggest goal I’ve ever scored. It was so awesome to score that goal,” Jackson, who stands at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds said.
The entire season in the league should stand as a pleasant memory for the St. Albert native as he played in the AJHL all-star game and was named to the Northern Division all-rookie team. In 60 games, Jackson racked up seven goals, 21 points and 82 penalty minutes.
Jackson was unable to play in the finals, unfortunately, due to a kidney injury. The loss of Jackson, along with fellow defenceman Scott Farrell left the club short staffed on the blueline. It was a crippling blow the club could not overcome as they were swept in the finals by the Canucks.
“I wish I could have helped out the team in the final,” Jackson said. “I think we could’ve beaten Calgary if we had a healthy team.”
The upcoming season at Wisconsin figures to be just as memorable. In a recent WCHA preseason coaches poll, the Badgers were ranked third. The NCAA hockey season gets underway on October 15th and 16th as the Badgers take on Michigan Tech.