Mentor vs. student in NCAA hockey: Jackson’s Irish meet Shawhan’s Huskies

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson and Michigan Tech counterpart Joe Shawhan go way, way back – to 1986-1987 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where Jackson was a first-year assistant coach and Shawhan a third-string senior goalie for the Lake Superior State Lakers of the now defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

In the more than 30 years since, their paths have crossed many times but never as opposing coaches.

That changes Friday at 3 p.m. at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., when No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 18 Michigan Tech, old rivals in both the CCHA and Western Collegiate Hockey Association, meet in the opening game of the NCAA East Regional.

It will be a classic case of mentor versus student even though the 62-year-old Jackson, himself a third-string goalie for the late Ron Mason at Michigan State in the 1970s, is just seven-plus years older than Shawhan, a former junior hockey coach of the Soo Indians. Shawhan moved up from assistant to head coach of the Huskies when Mel Pearson returned to guide the Michigan Wolverines, one of the teams the 25-9-2 Irish beat two or more times in their inaugural season as an affiliate member of the Big Ten.

Shawhan’s Huskies are 22-16-5 and earned the WCHA’s automatic bid with a 2-0 victory at Northern Michigan to complete a 5-1 playoff march.

“I was glad to see Joe get the job at Michigan Tech,” Jackson said. “What he has accomplished is a special thing. I don’t think people were expecting a lot of that team when Mel left. I’m glad he got his shot at Michigan Tech and he’s shown his worth. He’s an astute student of the game.”

When Jackson became Lake State’s head coach and began a remarkable six-year run from 1990-96 that included two national championships, Shawhan often came over to watch Jackson’s teams on the ice and to pick his old coach’s brain away from it.

“I got to see him work daily along with Paul Pooley (a Lake State assistant and currently an assistant at Notre Dame),” Shawhan said Monday on his weekly radio show for Hancock, Mich., FM station WKMJ (MIX 93.5). “(Jackson) had the biggest influence on me and I said that when I was hired here.”

Shawhan witnessed the Lakers’ NCAA playoff run to the 1994 title. With a team that featured 12 freshmen, Jackson guided West Regional fourth-seed Lake State into the tournament and then won three straight overtime games — 6-5 over Northeastern, 5-4 over Michigan and 3-2 over Harvard. Finally, the Lakers exploded for a 9-1 victory over Boston University for the national title at the Saint Paul (Minn.) Civic Center, after which the Terriers legendary coach Jack Parker, made a visit to the Lakers’ locker room to congratulate them. No champion has won by more than a five-goal margin since.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around,” said Shawhan before repeating the last seven with more emphasis. “THE BEST COACH I’VE EVER BEEN AROUND.”

This week, website College Hockey News named Jackson its coach of the year for the second time after a season when his 13th Notre Dame team won a school-record 16 straight games and was ranked No. 1 for several weeks. Jackson won the award following the 2006-07 season when he guided his second Irish team to a 32-7-3 finish that included CCHA regular-season and playoff titles.

“We’re not going to outcoach him – guarantee you that,” Shawhan said. “It will be up to our players to outplay them.”

Shawhan knows that will be difficult against an Irish team that features a Hobey Baker Award finalist in sophomore goalie Cale Morris, who had 41 saves in the 3-2 overtime victory Saturday against the Buckeyes and is 24-7-1 as a starter with a 1.92 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

The Irish have a veteran defensive corps led by seniors Jordan Gross and Justin Wade, juniors Bobby Nardella and Dennis Gilbert and sophomore Andrew Peeke. The offense is led by centers Jake Evans, the senior captain with team-leading 29 assists and 40 points, and Andrew Oglevie, a junior with 12 goals and 32 points.

Jackson is impressed by his student’s team, which finished fifth in the WCHA’s regular season. The Huskies then went on a playoff roll, winning two at No. 4 Bemidji State, the last two of a three-game set at regular-season champ Minnesota State, and finally the championship game at Northern Michigan behind a 21-save performance by junior Packy Munson, who started his college career at Vermont and Denver.

Munson, who split playing time with senior Devin Kero and freshman Robbie Beydoun, has a 2.61 average and figures to start against the Irish. Tech has eight players with 22 or more points led by junior forward Jake Lucchini, who has 37 points and a team-high 16 goals, including six on the power play. Next is senior defenseman Mark Auk, who has nine goals (five with the man-advantage) and 31 points.

“They will be an older team and will be tough to play against,” Jackson said. “They always are.”

Sounds like the team in Jeff Jackson’s locker room.

NCAA HOCKEY

WHO: No. 4-seed Michigan Tech (22-16-5) vs. No. 1-seed Notre Dame (25-9-2) in first round of East Regional of NCAA Tournament.

WHEN: Friday at 3 p.m. EST.

WHERE: Webster Bank Arena (10,000) in Bridgeport, Conn.

TV/RADIO: ESPN2, WZOC-FM (94.3).

WINNER: Plays the winner of second game between No. 3-seed Clarkson and No. 2-seed Providence Saturday at 6 p.m.

RANKINGS: Notre Dame is No. 2 in both the USCHO.com media and American Hockey Coaches Association/USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. … Michigan Tech is No. 18 in the media poll and receiving votes in the coaches’ poll.

LAST OUTINGS: Host Notre Dame beat Ohio State 3-2 in overtime last Saturday to complete a sweep of the regular-season and tournament titles in its first season as an affiliate member of the Big Ten Conference. … Michigan Tech, which won five of six playoff games on the road, beat Northern Michigan 2-0 Saturday for the WCHA playoff title.

LAST MEETINGS: The teams, rivals in the old WCHA and CCHA, have met 54 times with the Huskies holding a 31-21 edge with two ties. … They split a pair of games on Jan. 6-7, 2017 on the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena with Notre Dame winning the opener 3-1 before losing the finale 4-2. 

ICE CHIPS: Notre Dame is second nationally in penalty-kill percentage at 88.6 and 12th in power-play percentage at 22.3, 26th in scoring at 2.94 goals per game, seventh in scoring defense at 2.17 goals allowed per game and 10th in scoring margin at 0.78. … Center Jake Evans, who had two assists including one on Cam Morrison’s game-winning overtime goal in 3-2 victory over Ohio State, is 11th nationally in assists at 0.81 per game and fourth in faceoffs won with 491. … Junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert is tied for 15th nationally with 76 blocked shots. … Michigan Tech is 21st in scoring at 3.05 goals per game, 21st in scoring defense at 2.63 goals allowed per game and 28th in power-play percentage at 19.1.

In this file photo. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson looks on during the Notre Dame-Michigan game on Jan. 7, (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)