With the Everett Silvertips laying claim to the top spot in the entire CHL Rankings, the Seattle Thunderbirds are unlikely to catch the U.S. Division frontrunners. As the T-Birds focus on the battle for second place, veteran defenseman Scott Jackson will play a huge role in the club’s attempt to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the WHL playoffs.
Jackson arrived in Seattle as a 15-year-old and at that time, he was good enough to play.
“He came in at 15 and played games,” remembered head coach Rob Sumner. “We could see he had the smarts at that point. Then at 16, he took on regular ice time. At 17 and 18, he was our top defenseman.”
For Jackson, a native of Salmon Arm, B.C., the move to the United States was a big step.
“It was quite a change,” Jackson agreed. “When I first got down here, I really noticed kind of a different culture. But it’s a beautiful city and a great place to live.”
Jackson has grown in Seattle, both physically and mentally. At 6’4, 215 pounds, he already has pro size and is prepared to use it. From the neck up, Jackson has matured as a leader in the T-Birds dressing room and on the ice.
“Scott is a humble guy and has really applied his experience to his game,” Sumner added. “He’s such a good leader. He always has led by example here, but he has really become a more visible leader here of late.”
There are many aspects associated with leadership in junior hockey. Jackson has made a point to be available to help the younger players. He’s also aware of the importance of making import players comfortable.
“I think we have to recognize the import players have to be good players to come over here,” Jackson said. “They definitely have skills. I think it’s important to help them become comfortable, to get them to maybe come out of their shell. The language barrier can be tough on them, even on the ice.”
Jackson has played with Thomas Hickey (2007 eligible) for much of the past two seasons. Sumner suggests the young defenseman has benefited from Jackson tutelage.
“For the most part, we have Thomas partnered with Scott,” Sumner said. “When Thomas came in, it was a chance for a young guy to play with an experienced guy, but they’ve become two of our best guys and we like to have them together against the other team’s best players.”
Hickey is quick to credit Jackson as well.
“I can’t even explain how much it helped me last year coming in as a 16-year-old,” Hickey sighed. “When I didn’t even know what kind of role I was going to be put into and then they paired me up with Jacko, I mean, he’s been the No. 1 d-man here for years.”
“He’s really helped me along and we’ve become good friends now. He helped me with the transition to major junior, you know, convincing me to just play my own game and don’t worry about too many things. And he’s always there for an outlet pass. He talks to me a lot and we’ve played together a lot. He’s just a real good player.”
Jackson takes the accolades in stride, understanding there were players in front of him in Seattle that had an impact on his development.
“I remember playing with Matt Hanson the most,” Jackson said. “He was so calm in whatever he did and I always knew he had my back out there. Playing with him really helped me to gain confidence.”
Drafted in the second round, 37th overall, at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Jackson had to wait to attend his first pro training camp. Due to the lockout, the Blues did not bring the prospects together in 2005. However, Jackson had his taste of the pro experience before the current season and is eager to make his mark in St. Louis.
“I enjoyed the opportunity,” Jackson said. “I saw a few other WHL guys there, too, like Nick Drazenovic (Prince George Cougars) and Mike Gauthier (Prince Albert Raiders). I keep in touch with Craig Channell, the Blues’ western Canada scout. That’s nice because I know of some guys who never seem to hear from the team that drafted them.”
In 34 games this season, he’s scored twice and added 16 assists. He’s also sporting a nifty plus-15 ranking. Jackson has played over 240 WHL games in his career and should the T-Birds have a lengthy playoff run this season, he could hit the 300-game plateau. The mark would have been much closer to achieve if not for a couple of minor injuries along the way. He attributes his longevity to building a personal routine, something he believes every player in major junior hockey has to eventually come to grips with.
“It’s hard to believe I’ve been around so long, I guess I’m getting old,” Jackson laughed. “I got into a lot of games when I was young and I do play physical out there. I had a couple knee problems, a couple scopes for cartilage issues, which was frustrating right after being drafted.
“I think it was important to keep in mind that those things happen in hockey and I just had to be patient and considered myself lucky because when you work hard to come back, I think that can show some leadership.
“The club is helpful. Around here, there are guys who stay awake until 2:00am and are just fine with it. When I got here, everyday I felt like I was falling asleep in school. There are times when you’re busy here but there is down time and it’s important to make good use of that time to get rest. In the second half of each season, it’s seems like we’re just sleeping on the bus and playing hockey.”
In November, Jackson played for Team WHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge games. He enjoyed the opportunity, but was not invited to attend Canada’s national junior selection camp for the 2007 WJC. Regarding the ADT games, Jackson offered an insight on the Russian style of play.
“There were two sides to playing in those games,” Jackson explained. “It was fun to get together with the guys. I roomed with Kris Russell (CBJ) at the U-17 tournament in Newfoundland a couple years ago and saw some of the players at the summer camp in Whistler. I wanted to prove myself more through the ADT games, I wanted to make more of an impact.
“In the first game, I was trying to get used to the Russian style. It was tough because we only got a little information prior to the game. But in Seattle, we didn’t get any of the first four games on television either. They’re not a dump-and-chase team. There is a lot of crossing in at the blue line, different from what we see here. It took some getting used to.”
“I know he enjoyed it,” Sumner added when asked about Jackson’s experience with Team WHL. “I know when you’re on the doorstep of that national junior team, there is a certain amount of disappointment not being invited to the selection camp. But, to be categorized in that group is a tremendous achievement, too.”
For now, Jackson is like the majority of major junior players across North America. He’s taking full advantage of the holiday schedule break and enjoying life in Seattle. Among the group on the T-Birds roster looking to have a big second half of the season are Aaron Gagnon (PHO), Bretton Stamler (DET), Bud Holloway (LA) and Chris Durand (COL).
“We can play a lot of golf here in Seattle, but I definitely need some practice,” Jackson laughed. “But mostly we’re all just going to relax.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.