Hockey Coach Reinstated

By COLE LOUISON

Mike Jackson was reinstated as head coach of the hockey team Monday after serving a week-long suspension for destroying a second-place trophy following a tournament game against rival Shrewsbury on Feb. 18.

"I made a mistake," Mr. Jackson told the Gazette. "And I learned from it, there's no doubt about that."

Mr. Jackson met with principal Peg Regan on Feb. 20 and admitted to smashing a tournament trophy with a hammer, the action for which he was suspended.

He met with the principal again last Friday to discuss the terms under which he could rejoin the team. Mr. Jackson agreed to apologize to the team and the hockey parents, to reapply for the position in September, to attend a sportsmanship conference given by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and to attend anger management classes. He also promised that there would be no more recriminations between himself and the players or the parents.

Before Monday's practice, Mr. Jackson had what he called a "clearing the air talk" with the team, and invited the players to share their feelings about the Feb. 18 incident and its aftermath. He stressed that students or parents can come to his office at any time to voice their concerns. His actions that Sunday, he explained, were a result of the frustration he felt over the lack of communication among the team, between athletes and coaches, and between coaches and the athletic director.

"If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have tried to use a drastic measure to get across a point," he said. "The point that: hey, look, in a week we're going to the state tournament. That's the most important part of the year. We've got to get a message across that it's okay to make mistakes now, but next week we've got to get going."

Though members of the hockey community have become sharply divided over the incident and recent suspension, Mr. Jackson said he has received mostly support from hockey fans, parents and the team.

A member of the first official Vineyard hockey team in 1983, Mr. Jackson was graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1985 and became assistant coach of the squad in 1991. Since he took over the head coaching position in 1999, the Vineyarders have enjoyed two victorious seasons, winning the Eastern Massachusetts Division III title in 1999, and the Division III state championship the following year.

This year marks the third season for the Vineyarders under Mr. Jackson's leadership, and from the beginning Mr. Jackson knew he was dealing with a different group of athletes. The squad had lost two high-scoring seniors, Ryan Mundt and Andrew Philips. The team was lighter on offense than in past years, the coach said, and captains Daniel Bettencourt and Elliot Coutts have been less vocal than previous captains, letting their performance on the ice speak for them. This, said the coach, has made it difficult to bring a young team up to the level of play of years past.

But Mr. Jackson recognized the difference in the new group, and early on saw the potential of the group to develop as a defensive stronghold. Mike Pepper returned after missing a season to become one of the team's best new forwards, and seniors Geoff Phillips and Dan Bettencourt emerged as team leaders.

Now resuming his position at the onset of the tournament season, Mr. Jackson is prepping his team for the state playoffs that begin Saturday with a match against sixth-seeded Bourne. The Vineyarders have 1-1 record against Bourne, and at 11-6, are currently seeded 11th overall, a standing that can be misleading since the team plays so many top-notch Division III teams outside of the Cape and Islands League.

"In reality, we've already played 10 tournament games," Mr. Jackson said. "I'm looking forward to Saturday, and I know the kids are.

"I just think that bottom line, we're a better team. We're deeper and more talented offensively."

The Vineyarders enter the final stages of the season in generally good health, although a few skaters are recovering from injury. Taylor Ives recently suffered a dislocated shoulder, and high-scoring senior Eliot Coutts is recovering from a knee injury. Tim Bettencourt was out with an injured spleen, but has been practicing with the team this week.

To keep up everyone's fitness, Mr. Jackson has kept practice up-tempo this week, focusing on passing and speed drills, practicing face-offs and defensive zone coverage.

He says the athletes have been supportive since his return, and that the events of the past two weeks have not altered their performance. With the exception of attending sportsmanship and anger management classes, Mr. Jackson said, he wants to put the recent events behind him and move on.

"My biggest concern now is to finish the year out and then step back, take a look at the whole program, and see where we want to go with it," he said.

A fan bus has been chartered to Saturday's tournament game, leaving on the 4 p.m. boat for the 6 p.m. match at the Gallo Arena. The cost to fans is $10 for boat and bus - admission to the game is not included. For information, call Gail Avakian of the hockey booster club at 627-4919. The fan bus will return to the Island on the 8:45 p.m. ferry.