More than just a game, hockey is a way of life
Reid Jackson is limping.
The 31-year-old is nursing a mangled knee, having hurt it while playing goal for the Hawks, a Jasper Hockey League team which struggled to put someone between the pipes earlier this season. Jackson, who came to town last winter to be with his now-fiancé, isn’t really a goalie, but he’s shown he’s willing to don whatever equipment is necessary to ensure a group of skaters has someone to fire pucks at.
In fact, in the 15 months or so since he came to Jasper, Jackson’s not only put on goalie pads for three different commercial teams, the Jalopies drop-in club and the women’s scrimmage ice time, but he’s worn a coaching badge for minor hockey, a co-organizer’s cap for Jasper’s newest hockey team, the Jasper Park Predators, and the black and white striped jersey of a referee (in October, he took over as chief official for the JHL). Reid is all hockey, all-the-time, and if he’s not at the rink, he’s either sharpening his skates, taping his stick or otherwise anticipating the next time he’ll be on or near the ice.
“I love the game and what the game does for me,” he said. “It gives me freedom from every worry.”
Worries like, for example, a torn meniscus, which causes him to wince in pain with every step, but not so much that he’s willing to take a night out of his skates.
“Walking hurts, skating is good,” he shrugs. “I love hockey more than I care about the pain.”
Sure enough, five hours later, he’s jumping over the boards to face off against the JHL’s Bonestars.
Jackson has given a lot of himself to hockey, but hockey has given much to Jackson, too. The rink has not only been a place to pick up a game, but new friendships and job prospects. Hockey buddies are forever, he says, and since he was 18 he hasn’t had to create a resume; wherever he’s lived, he’s found work through folks he’s met on the ice.
“Whenever I move to a new town hockey’s been the easiest access to work and friends,” he said.
Thankfully, his fiancé is a hockey fan, too. The two are slowly working their way towards her goal of watching the Montreal Canadiens play in all 30 NHL rinks across North America. So far they’ve checked off Tampa Bay, Florida (Miami), Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver, Edmonton and Le Centre Bell.
“We’re a good match, even though I’m a Canucks fan,” he said.
Having grown up in Oliver, B.C., Jackson started playing hockey at age 10. He was officiating at age 12 and got into coaching not long after. These days, when he has time to help manage the Jasper Midget Bearcats, he’s encouraged to see the enthusiasm the young guys bring to the game.
“They’re so eager, they work hard,” he said. “It’s exciting to pass on whatever knowledge I can and see them grow.”
Between coaching, refereeing, playing with the JHL Royals and suiting up for noon hour, Jalopies and women’s hockey, until he got hurt, Jackson was on the ice up to nine times a week. One has to wonder if all that time at the arena cuts into other responsibilities.
“What else is there, other than hockey?” he asks, not really indicating if he’s joking or not.
As he limps over to the officials’ room to make sure his referees know their assignments, he considers what his life would be without the game.
“I’d be miserable,” he laughs. “I’d probably be successful, but I’d be miserable.”