Photos by J. Alan Photography and Russell Hons
Dane Jackson didn’t grow up wanting to be a hockey coach. It just naturally came to him. After playing at North Dakota and then enjoying an 11-year professional career in the NHL and American Hockey League, Jackson went right from being a captain for the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs to being an assistant coach for the team. After gaining experience, he returned to Grand Forks and joined Dave Hakstol’s staff in 2006. When Hakstol moved onto the NHL in 2015, Brad Berry was promoted to head coach and Jackson was named the associate head coach.
North Dakota beginnings
Jackson knew if he had the opportunity, he would be a part of the University of North Dakota hockey program. From Castlegar, British Columbia, he was fully aware of the tradition in Grand Forks.
“It was definitely considered a top-level program,” Jackson said. “I always wanted to play here. I read about (Tony) Hrkac and (Bob) Joyce and the Hrkac Circus in Sports Illustrated. Even from a small town in western Canada, you knew about UND hockey. It was high level. It was a very good program and had high status.”
Jackson played for North Dakota from 1988-92, tallying 59 goals and 103 points in 150 career games. He served as an alternate captain as a senior and was drafted in the third round (44th overall) by Vancouver in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft.
He also met his wife, Carrie, while attending the university. The two now have three children: Dillon (13) and twins Dallas and daughter Lila (9).
The start of a coaching career
It was late in Jackson’s AHL career when he realized he had a call for coaching. The realization came that he wouldn’t be a full-time NHL player, and his role in the AHL was mentoring the younger players hoping to reach the top league of professional hockey. The progression was natural. So much that Bruce Boudreau, who was the head coach for Manchester from 2001-2005 and is currently the head coach for the Minnesota Wild, asked Jackson to transition from a player to an assistant coach for the Monarchs.
“My first situation was hard because I went from a captain and a teammate with the guys to the next year being a coach,” Jackson said. “That’s a tough dynamic because you’re best buddies with them, and then the next thing, you’re kind of a manager to them. But I think I was fortunate because as a player, guys respected that I worked hard and was team first. They helped me a little bit as a coach.”
He got his first head coaching experience for the Adirondack Frostbite of the United Hockey League after a few years with Manchester.
“I look back and you get experience by doing things,” Jackson said. “It’s different being a head coach and making your own decisions. There was a lot of things I would do differently. But it was a great experience. One of the things I learned is when you’re coaching, as long as you’re honest and genuine with guys and you show you care about them, those are the biggest things. You can make mistakes. But if you show you care about them and you’re genuinely interested in their best interests, you’ll do well.”
Jackson has grown to be a veteran coach. But he said his coaching style hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years. He has taken bits and pieces from the coaches he’s played or coached under, but still says it’s important to be true to yourself. He considers himself a players’ coach who can be tough on his players in a respectful way. “Be demanding and not demeaning” is a mantra he sticks to.
And while he learned a lot as a younger coach, his life changed when North Dakota head coach Hakstol called him in 2006.
Returning to Grand Forks
Jackson earned an opportunity at a pro career in hockey because of his time in Grand Forks. His wife grew up in Bismarck and has a lot of family in North Dakota. But the decision to return wasn’t necessarily an easy one.
“Strangely enough, it wasn’t a no-brainer,” Jackson said. “We lived in Rochester, New York, for quite a while and had a home base there. I had an offer to coach with Randy Cunneyworth with the Rochester Americans, where I played. We had a home there and a lot of ties and friends there. That was an exciting opportunity. And then when Dave Hakstol called, it was even more exciting just because of my relationship with Dave and my love of UND and the hockey program.”
North Dakota remained an elite program in college hockey when Jackson returned. But he noticed it was taken to a whole new level in his 14 years away.
“The biggest thing was getting to come coach here at the Ralph,” he said. “UND has always had an outstanding hockey program. But just the level of support from the administration for the program, the facilities, how we got to run our program and how we were supported, it really has taken a big jump as far as the level of professionalism on how everything was done here. It was really impressive.”
In July 2015, Jackson was promoted to associate head coach with Berry taking over the helm. In that first season, North Dakota won its eighth national championship.
“It was incredible,” Jackson recalled. “As players and coaches, you put so much time and effort into the program. We really felt like we were doing the right things. We had won a lot of games and won in the playoffs, but weren’t able to get those final couple wins in the Frozen Four. To get over the hump and finally be able to bring that national title back to our school and fans, it was special.
“I had my kids come out on the ice and shared that with them. I’ve missed birthdays and a lot of their hockey games because of the job. Your wife and kids suffer from that. But it’s what you do and we all bleed green around here. To be able to put that much of your life into something and accomplish the ultimate goal was extremely rewarding.”
Since moving to Grand Forks as an 18-year-old, North Dakota hockey has been a central part of his and his family’s life.
“It’s had a huge impact on my life with the opportunities I got, the people I’ve met and my love that I get to do every day,” Jackson said. “You get to work with unbelievable people with the players and coaches. It’s so fun to be a part of something that’s so big in our whole state. You feel kind of privileged and fortunate walking in every day.”
1988-92: North Dakota (150 games, 59 goals, 103 points)
1992-2003: Stops in the NHL (45 games, 12 goals, 18 points) and AHL (199 goals)
2003-05: AHL’s Manchester Monarchs assistant coach
2006: UHL’s Adirondack Frostbite head coach
2006-2015: UND assistant coach
2015-present: UND associate head coach