CHICAGO — Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson won national championships at Lake Superior State in 1992 and 1994, while leading the Lakers to four other NCAA tournament appearances.
At Notre Dame, the title hasn’t yet happened, but he’s gotten the Irish into the tournament eight times, with this year being his third Frozen Four with the team.
“Things have changed a lot since the Lake State days in college hockey,” he says. “When I started at Notre Dame, I honestly believed it was a real diamond in the rough. It was a program that had so much potential, obviously, with the name recognition and the tradition and the great education that you get at Notre Dame. I figured it would be a great place to recruit.”
Those expectations have been met. Jackson has delivered sustained excellence. But the ultimate prize is still yet to come.
“We’ve had success, [but] you still you want to win national championships,” he says. “For us, we’ve been close.”
For Lake State, close most often translated into the ultimate prize.
“The times we won at Lake State, everything fell into place,” he says. “It’s a number of different things.
“There are a lot of things that are out of your control, but there’s some things that are in your control. If you manage those things that are within your control, then you can win.”
At Notre Dame, things that have been outside the team’s control have cost them in past Frozen Four appearances.
“In our first trip [in 2008], we were playing without our captain, our best player, Erik Condra,” Jackson recalls. “That team did a great job getting there. They were a four seed [like this year].
“We knocked off Michigan, the No. 1 overall [seed] in the semifinal, and that was quite a feather in that team’s hat, but we had a tough time against Boston College.
“Last time [in 2011], we ran into a good Minnesota Duluth team.”
Close but no cigar. Can this year be the one?
“You’ve got to put yourself in position to win championships,” Jackson says. “That’s what our goal is at Notre Dame every year, whether it’s a conference championship or a national championship.
“Then all those things have to fall into place. As coaches, we try to make sure the things that are within our control, that we manage those things. The things that are outside of our control, there’s nothing we can do about.
“Every year it’s different. This year’s team is certainly different than the first two that made it to the Frozen Four.”
Perhaps the third time for the Irish will be the charm.