by Keith Phillips || AHL On The Beat Archive
Norfolk Scope Arena is dark except for a spotlight shining on the inflated red tunnel that connects the Norfolk Admirals’ locker room to the ice.
After introducing the starting goaltender, the arena public address announcer bellows, “Starting at defense for your Norfolk Admirals, wearing number 22, Scott ‘Action’ Jackson!”
A 6-foot-4, 215-pound scruffy-faced defenseman skates out of the tunnel and into the spotlight to the cheers of the Scope faithful.
On a typical night, that’s probably the last time one of Norfolk’s unsung heroes will be in the spotlight. For Scott Jackson, that’s perfectly fine.
A stay-at-home defenseman, Jackson has just one goal and 11 points with a plus-10 rating in his first 52 games this season. The second-year pro out of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League has been at or near the top of the Norfolk plus/minus leaderboard all season.
Statistics, however, do not show Jackson’s true value to the team. Acting Admirals head coach Leigh Mendelson says that while Jackson’s contributions may not always show up on the scoreboard, they can be seen in the amount of ice time he gets and the types of situations in which he plays.
“For the last 15-20 games, Scott Jackson and Ty Wishart have basically been our shutdown pair,” said Mendelson. “They play against every team’s top line. They’re also the first two guys over the boards on the penalty kill. The ice time alone and the quality minutes are good indicators of how valuable Scott is to the team.”
Jackson has not always been entrusted with ice time in critical situations for the Admirals. In his rookie campaign, he had just begun to earn a regular spot in the Norfolk lineup before suffering an injury in late February that caused him to miss the final 23 games of the season.
He began this season with the goal to regain his confidence and work his way up the ladder.
“This year the biggest thing has been finding my role,” said Jackson. [Former Admirals associate/head coach] Jim Johnson really helped me out by showing me what kind of plays I needed to make. I needed to be a simple defensive player. I bought in to that role and felt more comfortable and have had more confidence as the year has gone on.”
Mendelson agrees that Jackson’s simple game has helped him to become a vital member of the team’s success. The Jackson-Wishart pairing has been a key part of a 14-2-1-1 run over Norfolk’s last 18 games in which the team’s defense has improved from 2.86 to 2.17 goals allowed per game.
“The two biggest things are Jackson’s consistency and his competitiveness,” said Mendelson. “He’s a guy who is prepared for every game and plays well every night. He keeps his game simple. He makes good decisions with the puck, defends the rush well and is a very physical player. He’s got a very good head for the game and has all of the attributes to be a complete defenseman.”
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Jackson has increased his offensive output this season, as well. He scored his first career American Hockey League goal on Feb. 17 in Hartford, although in typical fashion the spotlight avoided him once again.
The goal had originally been credited to sniper Brandon Bochenski, who at first glance appeared to have tipped Jackson’s shot. Upon video review, it was discovered that Bochenski had not touched the shot and Jackson was credited properly as the goal scorer. Jackson had not heard the announcement and did not know he had scored the goal until he was congratulated on the team bus by radio broadcaster Pete Michaud.
Jackson admitted that getting that first goal out of the way was important, but he’s not about to change his game to pad his statistics.
“Whether you’re offensive or not, you’ve got to score once in a while. It was nice to get it. I would like to score more. I think as my confidence grows and I feel more comfortable in the offensive zone, I can make more of an impact there. But it’s not something that I’m going to change my game for. I’m happy with the role I’m playing. If I try to put more emphasis on scoring I’m going to give up opportunities defensively.”
While some players use timely goals or big saves to change a game, Jackson uses his big frame to alter the game’s momentum.
“Being physical is the one way I try to change games,” said Jackson. “Some guys score goals, but I’m not an offensive player and being physical is one thing I like to bring. That gives me a little more room and helps the team to get going a little bit, too.”
Mendelson thinks Jackson has the opportunity to make the jump to the NHL one day.
“Scott will continue to get better and better. He’s a guy that has a chance to make that step to the next level. He has the competitiveness and the hockey sense to get there. He has the chance to make that jump if someone gives him that opportunity because he’s very reliable.”
As Jackson has seen his ice time rise and as Norfolk has risen in the East Division from last to a tie for second place, Jackson has refocused his personal and team goals.
“I want to continue on the path I’m on right now. I would like to get called up at some point this year. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. As long as I’m playing solid hockey here, gaining confidence and showing that I can play in this league, I’ll be happy.”
“It goes the same for our team goals. We’ve come a long way in the last month. Making the playoffs was a big goal for us. We’re putting ourselves in a playoff position right now. Now we have to see if we can be a real contender. If we can take a few more steps before the end of the season that will be great for us to make that push.”
As the Admirals play twelve of their final 16 regular season games this season at home, the Scope public address announcer may not mention Scott “Action” Jackson all that much. But be sure that he is out there every night making solid contributions to the team’s push for the playoffs.