VW Junior A Star John Jackson Proves He is Here to Stay
While the future of the Valley Jr Warriors team is still to be written this season, the talented group of players made a clear statement that they will be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
Following a 5-0 start to the season, the Warriors fell into an October slump which saw the team lose four out of five games. The team returned to its friendly confines in Haverhill where it posted three victories as part of the 2012 Warrior Classic Tournament and then added two league wins before taking a break to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. During that five-game stretch, the Warriors outscored their opponents by a 14-to-4 margin.
“It was a great way to head into a break,” said head coach Andy Heinze,
the three-time and reigning EJHL Coach of the Year. “It is a long
season and as a coaching staff you want to see your players respond to
the many challenges you face along the way. They stepped up when they
needed to which bodes well for us.”
While a heralded crew of first-year players have added a boost
to this year’s team, the Warriors are grounded and – as they proved in
November – resilient thanks to a strong corps of returning players
including MarcusMoles(Lake Placid, NY), John Rogeri(Katy, TX), Brett Mason(Rowley, MA) and third-year standout JohnJackson(Bixby, OK).
Jackson, who scored two goals in a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia
Revolution and added two assists in his team’s 3-1 decision against the
Springfield Pics, is an anomaly in the world of junior hockey. His
journey began back in 2009 when he was just 16 years old.
of kids will do two years, but three is extraordinary,” said Heinze.
“We have had a lot of players come through who have really bought into
the system and have committed themselves to the program for the long
A major influence in John’s life has been his older brother Mark
who joined the Warriors during the 2010-11 season. While playing in a
tournament in Minnesota, Mark met Coach Heinze and there was an
immediate comfort level between the two. It wasn’t long before Mark
packed up his bags and headed to the Northeast.
“I picked the Warriors because of the staff and its location in
the New England hockey hub,” said Mark. “But when I met Coach Heinze in
Minnesota, I just loved him and knew that I wanted to play for him.”
Mark enjoyed two solid seasons playing for the Junior A squad
before he secured a spot at Gustavus Adolphus College. Looking back,
Mark credits the Warrior organization with making the transition from
junior to college hockey so seamless.
“It was a jump for sure, but I was well prepared,” said Mark.
“[The Warrior staff] did a great job and the EJHL is such a top-notch
league that it all prepared me well for the jump into college.”
Before Mark made that move, however, he spent his second year helping his younger brother make a similar move.
and I have been best friends forever,” said Mark. It was a no brainer
for us that when he was going to play junior hockey it was going to be
At barely 16 years old, John decided to move to New England with
his brother, enroll in a local high school and begin what has been a
three-year career with the Warriors organization.
“It was difficult because I was only 15 years old, leaving home
and living a different lifestyle with a new family,” said John. “But
Coach Heinze was there helping me the whole way and I had Mark there
with me and I look up to him which made it that much easier.”
During his first year in Haverhill, John enjoyed challenging
training sessions with the Junior A squad but most of his game
experience came in Junior B games. Following that season, Mark moved on
to Gustavus Adolphus College and John returned to the Warriors to
compete full-time for Heinze’s Junior A squad.
“I went in there knowing that I would be there for at least two
years because I had a lot to mature about my game,” said John, who
stands at 5-9 and 190 pounds. “A few of my teammates left, but I loved
the whole organization and I especially love Coach Heinze. He is great
at what he does. They are so good at recruiting good team guys, so it
made it easy for me to play through the years.”
It isn’t often that a junior-level coach is able to develop a
player over the course of three years. It is also rare for a coach to
develop two players over a five-year span who live thousands of miles
"Coach Heinze is a unique coach and that was a huge factor for
me," said Mark. "He has such an understanding of the game and can also
be a skills coach which definitely helped me to improve my game over two
years." An experienced coaching staff and
high-level competition is what has been a draw in recent years for
nationally-heralded players like Ryan Fitzgerald (Reading, MA), Devin Tringale (Medford, MA)and Brendan Collier (Charlestown, MA). But it is the sense of team that pervades this squad and what they feel has been the real key to their success thus far.
“It all comes back to Coach Heinze recruiting team-oriented guys
who are there to be better and be better as a team,” said John. “I have
been here a while and have seen guys come in and out, but I feel like
this experience has given me more brothers. I consider them family and
we work hard every day and band together.”
This season represents a chance for Jackson to assert himself
once again as an impact player for an EJHL contender. After missing much
of the second part of last season with a wrist injury, he put on 20
pounds during the off season.
“His physical tools are outstanding,” said Heinze. “He is having
to adjust this year because he is so much bigger and stronger and that
is coming out in his game right now.”
While many collegiate coaches are hoping for a chance to work
with Jackson, there is still a chance that his love affair with the
Warriors will continue on.
“He is potentially a Division I possibility,” said Heinze. “He
needs to continue to implement his skills and develop his overall game
with his size, but there is also a chance that he could spend another
year here which might break a record for us.”