Rookie Jackson Delivering For Gladiators

By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post

DULUTH, Ga. — If you didn’t notice Jim Jackson, he had a good game.

That’s generally true of all defensemen because it’s the mistakes that put blueliners in the spotlight.

But here lately Jackson’s antics make you wish video was part of the format. His efforts against Louisiana and Pensacola last week, two teams the Gladiators are fighting for playoff position, would have made for a mighty fine highlight tape.

In the second period against the division-leading Louisiana and the game tied at 1, Jackson dished out two thundering open-ice hits. The rookie freight-trained a couple of IceGators and, in the same shift, fired two solid shots on goal.

A few minutes later, Jackson picked up the puck at the blue line, rocketed a saucer on net and then jumped in for the rebound.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Jackson, a rookie in the ECHL, said. “I’ve learned to take advantage of the opportunities because you’re not going to get that many during a game.”

Not to get too far ahead of himself, Jackson also turned the puck over to give Louisiana a 1-on-0 chance at goaltender Trevor Prior in the same period.

And if head coach Jeff Pyle has one complaint about the 23-year-old, it’s that he tries to do too much.

“But I’d rather have a guy trying to do too much than not enough,” Pyle said. “And Jimmy’s coachable.”

An interesting statement since Walt Kyle, Jackson’s head coach at Northern Michigan, told Pyle not to sign the 5-foot-11, 180-pound defenseman.

“Walter said, ‘You don’t want him. He’s one of those guys that’s all over the place,’” said Pyle, who played with Kyle years ago.

Pyle made his own decision and talked to Jackson.

“We got him in (AHL) Milwaukee’s camp and they liked him there too,” Pyle said. “I told him, do your homework. Talk to people there about me.”

“And he still came.”

Jackson said he heard nothing but good things about Pyle and that was a big factor in his decision to sign with Gwinnett. He hasn’t regretted it.

“He makes you play hard and he makes you a better player as the year goes on,” said Jackson.

Jackson, a staple on the Gladiators blue line all season, earned February’s plus player of the month award for being on the ice when Gwinnett scored a goal 15 more times than when the opposition did.

“All-around the plus-minus is more of a team stat,” Jackson said. “There’s five more guys on the ice other than you that are working well with each other.

“I think plus-minus is a pretty solid stat to judge a defenseman by. Defensemen are out there to defend their zone and the forwards are out there to score goals.”

A week ago against Pensacola, Jackson was again memorable in his job. The native of Marquette, Mich., was the lone defender on an odd-man rush in the final minute of the first period. Jackson made two plays — first walling off an Ice Pilot then sliding through the slot to block a shot — to keep the game even.

“I just don’t understand what people in the American League are thinking,” said Pyle. “If they’re looking around at stats, I’d have taken Jimmy.”

Jackson leads the team with a plus-28 and has 26 points. His 211 shots on goal also rank second among rookies.

Jackson sees heavy time on special teams while having accumulated a meager 30 penalty minutes in 59 games.

“He’s been solid all year long,” Pyle said. “There’s so many games where you don’t see him. I’m sure he’s going to get called up eventually. Maybe next year, but somewhere down the line, he’s going to get a chance.

“But he’s got to realize that up at that level, you do less. You make sure you’re doing your job. No more, no less.”