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 Marcus Moles (Lake Placid, NY), John Rogeri (Katy, TX), Brett Mason (Rowley, MA) and third-year standout John Jackson (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.

“A lot 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 haul.”

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.

“John 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 with me.”

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 away.

"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.”
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