By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Another familiar face joined Gwinnett Gladiators on Tuesday.
Defenseman Jim Jackson is back with the team after spending last season — and the start of this one — overseas.
A member of the first two Gladiator teams, Jackson opted to play in Germany for Kaufbeuren last year. The Michigan native collected 30 points in 52 games and was already playing for a team in Denmark this season when he decided to return to Gwinnett.
“I was in Denmark for six weeks and it came to the fifth week where I was considering coming back to the Gladiators and playing the North American-style hockey,” Jackson said. “The year before was a great experience in Germany, but I thought this would just be a great move for myself with that experience I gained there.
“I thought I could bring that over here … and it’s going to be interesting. I’m really excited about it.”
The Gladiators also were expecting another defenseman, Scott Lehman, to arrive today. Their American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago announced Tuesday that Lehman was being assigned to Gwinnett. Lehman, a rookie drafted and signed by the Atlanta Thrashers, registered 14 penalty minutes and was a plus-5 in three games with the Wolves. The 20-year-old blueliner had 55 points in 68 games with Toronto of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said Jackson sent him an email about coming back. Pyle jumped at the chance to add the skilled defenseman.
“We’re short on ‘D,’ and it was a no-brainer,” Pyle said. “He’s the perfect fit right now.”When Jackson began considering a return to this side of the pond, he was no longer protected by any ECHL team and could have signed with anyone. But the 26-year-old had a short list.
“It’s definitely Gladiators or bust for me,” Jackson said. “There wasn’t going to be any other team.”
On a couple occasions last year, Pyle thought Jackson might come back to Gwinnett. A chuckling Jackson said he might have started those rumors himself.
“There was a few times over there (in Germany) where you get a little cabin fever and you wish you were back in the North American leagues,” Jackson said. “North American hockey is more traditional for me.
“I miss it. Plain and simple, I missed the hockey over here.”
His season in Europe will serve him well in the new ECHL. Last season the ECHL joined the NHL and American Hockey League in cracking down on obstruction penalties.
Playing on Olympic-sized ice — where skating and offense have always been at a premium — last year was good preparation for Jackson.
“There’s no doubt about it, the game over here has changed over the past two years,” Jackson said.
“Obstruction calls, stick work, a lot of those calls are made because guys aren’t skating, guys are lazy, guys are tired.”
While the forwards have flourished under the new rules, the defenseman’s job only got more difficult.
“It makes our job a lot tougher,” Jackson said. “(But) it seems to me, the guys we have back on ‘D’ right now are guys that can make it to the next level.”
One advantage Jackson has right now is while everyone else was just getting started at training camp, Jackson was playing in Denmark.
“I feel really good,” Jackson said. “I’ve played 12 games already overseas. I’ve been on the ice for the last six weeks competitively. So I think I’m in good shape. Coming back to the North American style is going to be a little bit different. But I played a couple years over here. I don’t think it’s going to take me too long to adapt to it.”
Jackson collected a career-best 33 points as a rookie for Gwinnett in 2003-04. Coming out of Northern Michigan University, he also led the ECHL’s first-year players with a plus-34 that season and helped the Gladiators to the conference finals.
Jackson nearly matched his point total as a sophomore (29) despite missing 14 regular-season games with a hand injury.