Notre Dame’s Jackson Pierson likes playing hockey back in his home state of Indiana
SOUTH BEND — Jackson Pierson is glad to be back home again in Indiana playing hockey and No. 12 Notre Dame is glad to have him as it entertains No. 17 Western Michigan in a two-game, non-conference, home-and-home series beginning Friday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted to NCAA athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 23-year-old Pierson is playing a fifth year of college hockey 45 minutes north of Culver Academy where the Zionsville, Indiana, resident was a three-time most valuable player for the Cadets. When he graduated Culver Academy, he was the program’s all-time leading scorer with 58 goals and 92 assists for 150 points.
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Though the 5-foot-9, 171-pound Pierson skated on the Lefty Smith Rink in Compton during his youth hockey days, he spent four seasons playing center for New Hampshire in Hockey East where he totaled 31 goals and 57 assists for 88 points in 155 games.
“After my senior season ended, I decided to enter the transfer portal and coach (Andy) Slaggert reached out,” said Pierson, who played against Slaggert’s sons Graham and Landon, his current left wing with the 2-1-1 Fighting Irish. “Obviously, there’s not much not to like about Notre Dame. I ended up getting out here and fell in love with the place.”
In four games, Pierson already has three assists centering for junior left wing Landon Slaggert and junior right wing Ryder Rolston, and he’s played a key role on the special teams which will be tested this week by the high-scoring Broncos, who have won four straight games, are third nationally in scoring and third with their 37.5 power-play percentage.
“Jackson certainly helps us with the (graduation) loss of Graham Slaggert,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “He’s given us the opportunity to create a top line. He’s playing in every situation – he’s done a great job penalty killing and on the power play. I really like his hockey sense and his ability to anticipate plays.”
Notre Dame’s power-play unit came to life last weekend in a sweep of Northern Michigan and is now converting at 29.4 percent. With Sunday’s game tied at 3-3 late, Pierson quickly directed a pass from Rolston back to the center point to junior defenseman Drew Bavaro, a transfer from Bentley. Bavaro’s blast ended up being the go-ahead goal in a 5-4 victory.
Bavaro, who played prep hockey at Lawrence Academy against Pierson’s Culver Academy team, is impressed. “JP is one of the most creative players in the country,” he said after the game.
Pierson credits his new teammates for helping his transition.
“Landon and Ryder make it pretty easy — it’s tough keeping up with then at times,” Pierson admitted. “I’m a 200-foot player who likes to play fast, play hard, win games, produce when I can and not let the other team score. They are both pretty smart with different skill sets. They are good at what they do. It’s been really easy to jell with those guys.”
Off the ice, Pierson, who received a bachelor’s degree in finance from New Hampshire, is seeking a masters of nonprofit administration in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “The idea of helping others through nonprofits has intrigued me,” he said.
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Pierson’s goal, of course, is to help Notre Dame make a long postseason run, possibly to the Frozen Four next April in Tampa. Under Jackson, the Irish have made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances including back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2017 and ’18.
“The culture, obviously, is a huge emphasis when you show up here,” Pierson said. “You are just not here for yourself. You’re part of something that is much, much bigger than yourself. You don’t realize it now, but years from now I’ll probably look back and realize how special it was to play here.”
In his own backyard at Notre Dame.