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Hockey Day 2018: Former NHLer Jackman back at the rink ... as a coach

First Maverick to reach NHL is back in Mankato after 14-year career as professional player

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

MANKATO -- Tim Jackman is not your everyday, full-time college student. 

Jackman -- born in Minot, North Dakota but raised in Brooklyn Park -- is a senior at Minnesota State University who will graduate this spring with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. 

He's the definition of a non-traditional student.

The 36-year old Jackman, a second-round pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, played 483 games with six different teams in a professional hockey career that spanned nearly 15 years before retiring two years ago. 

Once his playing days were over, Jackman and his wife, Chelsey, uprooted their lives and moved here to pursue the next chapter of their lives, and in Jackman's case, the next chapter of his hockey career.

In addition to his class load --13 credits in this, his final semester of college -- Jackman is a full-time dad to two children under three years of age, a full-time husband and an undergraduate assistant coach with the Minnesota State men's hockey team.

"I played hockey from the time I was six years old until I was 34," Jackman said. "It's been my whole life, my whole pursuit. Coaching is such a great way to stay a part of it and be around the guys, still feel a part of a team, with the common goal that we're all trying to get better and win hockey games."

That's not to say the transition has been easy.

In a 25-minute conversation about his post-playing career, Jackman never once used the word "retired." It's always what "came next." 

It's been two years since his last game as a player, but the fire still burns deep within his gut. It always will. 

"My first day at practice [as a coach], I was really nervous because I was still trying to come to grips with being done playing," Jackman said. "It was something I really struggled with my first year. Coaching has been great, but when you see how much fun the guys are having, I don't think you can ever take that away. That's what you always miss."

Whatever learning curve Jackman had as a first-year coach has evened out as his second season with a whistle around his neck has unfolded. 

A lion on the ice for more than a decade, one of the toughest players of his era, a favorite of teammates in six different NHL stops because of his willingness to defend them, Jackman was quiet and shy in his first year as a coach, just trying to soak it all in.

He's come out of his shell this season, as have the seventh-ranked Mavericks, who will play No. 1 St. Cloud State at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud as part of Hockey Day Minnesota on Jan. 20. 

"It's been fun to see him grow and mature and appreciate different things and how to do different things," said Mavericks assistant coach Darren Blue. "He's never been shy about work, whether it was as a player and working on his game or after he left here ... he's never been shy about putting in the work. That's the same way he is here."

Blue, a former Maverick player himself, returned to the school as an assistant coach in 2000, Jackman's freshman season at MSU. He has the unique viewpoint of seeing 20-year old Tim Jackman before he made the NHL and the current version, now a married father of two, back in Mankato and yet again, at the beginning of a new journey.

Mike Hastings, in his sixth season as head coach at MSU, had met Jackman a couple of times at alumni events in previous years and followed his career as a player. But it hasn't taken long for him to gain a tremendous amount of respect for Jackman as a coach.

"He's a doer. He's not waiting around for me to ask him to do things," Hastings said. "We'll have skill days, station days and he runs them. He takes our guys and puts them through the paces as far as being able to go out and understand the little nuances about the game."

'Always paying attention'

There wasn't one 'a-ha!' moment where Jackman decided he wanted to be a coach one day. Over the course of his playing career, it was simply something he thought more about as he got older.

Many of the drills he runs now hearken back to his playing days, when he'd head into the dressing room after practice and write down a drill he especially enjoyed or found helpful. He'd analyze why or how a coach did something and whether he liked it or didn't like it.

"I was always kind of paying attention to what the coaches were doing," Jackman said. "And then when I wasn't going to play any more and my body wasn't going to be able to handle it, I knew that coaching was kind of the way I was thinking."

Jackman's final two NHL games came with the Bruce Boudreau-led Anaheim Ducks during the 2015-16 season. He arrived at training camp with a sore back and tried to gut it out. 

But after a couple of games with the big club, and 20 more with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in San Diego, Jackman underwent back surgery. He never played professional hockey again. 

It wasn't long before Jackman contacted his agent Ben Hankinson, looking for a way to get into coaching. Hankinson reached out to Cary Eades, the head coach of the USHL's Fargo Force, who said Jackman was welcome to join the team for its developmental tryout camp during the summer.

It was, more or less, an opportunity for Jackman to get his feet wet and see what coaching was all about. 

As he was preparing to leave, he got a phone call from an old coach -- Blue -- who was checking in on his former pupil.

"I told him I was heading to the USHL, to Fargo, to see what this coaching was all about," Jackman said.

About 20 minutes later, Blue called him back with an idea: Come back to Mankato, enroll in school as a full-time student, finish his degree and become an undergraduate assistant coach with the hockey team he once played for. 

Back to school

It's funny to imagine the mountain of a man, Jackman, crammed into the tiny desk in a lecture hall. Listed as 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds during his playing days, Jackman is still in tremendous shape and looks like he could climb over the boards for a shift.

Blue tells the story of the time during Jackman's first stint at MSU when he would go around and check in on his players in class.

One day -- and Jackman maintains it was the one and only day he skipped -- Blue showed up to the classroom where Jackman was supposed to be, but he was nowhere to be found. 

At practice that afternoon, Blue quizzed him about the day's events. Jackman, immature and unknowing of Blue's attendance at class that day, made up a story.

"It was more hockey and social life than it was academics," Jackman said. "It ended up hurting my playing time and hurting the way I was able to mature. It took me a little bit longer. 

"But now that I'm here, hopefully helping these not do the same things I did when I was there age. Hopefully they'll be better because of it."

Getting married and having a family can change someone's perspective real quick, however, as can 15 years of traveling North America, living out his dream. 

Still, there's been times where Jackman has wondered aloud, "what the heck am I doing?"

One of them was his first semester back in Mankato. Two mornings a week, Jackman had a swimming class where he'd show up and have to swim laps in a pool. 

He remembered doing the backstroke and staring at the ceiling.

"I've had a few of those moments, but for the most part, it's been great," Jackman said.

Eventually, student life grew on him, and he found a balance and a routine, much like he did during his days as a player. 

"The best thing about him now is, I no longer have to go check and see if he's in class," Blue said. "It's awesome. He just got his grades back and he's doing great. Again, it's perspective. He's got a great perspective on life."

Coach Jackman

Jackman remembers the first meeting with Hastings like it was yesterday.

He woke up that morning and drove the two hours from Anoka to Mankato for a 10 a.m. meeting in Hastings' office, where he immediately heard something that resonated with him.

"The first thing that he told me was that the players are held up high, and the coaches and the rest of the staff are below the players. It was all about the players," Jackman recalled. "Right away, that resonated with me and it was something I respected. Right away, I thought this would be a really good place to watch and learn from someone who sees that he's here to serve the team and take care of the players and help them become more mature men."

Jackman said Hastings has showed tremendous "grace" as he's found his way behind the bench and as the team's "eye in the sky" in the press box. 

Jackman credited Boudreau, his coach for two seasons in Anaheim, and Bob Hartley, his leader in Calgary, as two major influences on his own coaching career.

"Playing for Bruce, that was some of the best hockey I ever got to play," Jackman said. "I think one of his strengths is making guys feel comfortable and knowing their role. He did the individual meetings with players, where every two or three weeks, I'd go into his office and I'd get to ask him some questions and he'd ask them of me and we'd make sure we're on the same page. 

"It was something that helped me understand what my role was and I think I ended up playing some of the best hockey I ever played in my career."

Jackman's willingness to understand his role, as well as play the style of game that rarely ever glamorous, made him one of Boudreau's favorites during his days coaching the Ducks. 

"Tim was so respectful of the game. The reason he fought was because he knew what he had to do to be in the NHL and he knew what he had to do to be a good teammate," Boudreau said. "I had the utmost respect and fondness for him. I thought he was a great acquisition when we got him, and I think he'll make a great coach because he listens to you and he takes what you have to say and he's very respectful of that."

Only a year and a half into his career as a coach, Jackman has already made a difference with one of the best college teams in the country.

"If you go up and down our roster, he's had an impact on everybody," Hastings said. "He's got a lot of experience, but being such a good guy that he is, the guys just kind of gravitate towards him. He's not a boastful, 'Hey, I've been there,' kind of guy ... it's more of a, 'If you want to talk, I'm here for you.'"

The question remains now, which direction will Jackman head next? With graduation coming in May and a bright future behind the bench in front of him, where will he end up?

Hastings prefers not to think that far ahead.

"I was just thinking about that the other day when I saw him getting out of the car to walk into the building," Hastings said. "I think his experience he has, the type of guy that he is, the kind of want-to he has ... I hope we don't lose him too soon because he's so valuable to us."

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