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Pioneers hockey player checks in with figure skating coach

DU forward Dusty Jackson worked with a figure skating coach to come back from an season-ending injury.

Broken teeth. Shattered jaws. Fist fights.

Fair or not, we tend to think of hockey players in blustery, macho terms rather than in images of precision and grace.

So it might be surprising to learn that Dustin “Dusty” Jackson — a 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound forward for the University of Denver Pioneers — spent last spring working out with a figure skating coach after breaking his right leg in a preseason scrimmage.

“I was cutting to the net, I lost my edge and fell, and I couldn’t get up in time. I went into the boards really awkwardly, and caught my leg,” the 24-year-old finance major recalls.

Though surgeons put in a rod to realign and stabilize his femur, his hip also was affected.

“With a fracture of that magnitude, weight-bearing is restricted for quite a while. The muscles of the leg and hip get very weak from not being able to be used as well as [from] pain,” explains his physical therapist, Joy Anderson.

Jackson missed the entire 2009–10 season, but he found it particularly painful when he couldn’t contribute to critical games.

“In the [WCHA] Final Five, when our team didn’t do so well, and in the [NCAA East Regional] tournament, when we lost to RIT — those were really hard to watch,” he says.

Though Jackson was sidelined during games, he wasn’t sitting idly by. He began working out with Anderson almost immediately.

“Every day last year, I would come to the rink right after I finished up classes,” Jackson says. “Then I’d start my rehab and come to the locker room a little bit to be around the guys when they got ready. When they went on the ice I’d go to rehab. I’d be there pretty much all day — I’d go before they got there, and leave after they left.”

But when he was allowed to return to the ice, about four months after his injury, he noticed he still had a lot of pain when he skated.

Anderson suggested he call Susan Williams, a figure skating coach who has helped guide competitive skaters in national and international competition and has worked with numerous hockey players.

“The idea was to use edge work to recondition his hip and retrain normal motor pathways that were shut down from extreme injury,” Anderson says.

Williams drilled Jackson on backward crossovers, forward and backward crosscuts at various speeds and forward and backward power pulls, not on triple axels and double toe loops.

“I didn’t put figure skates on,” Jackson says. “I was still in my hockey stuff.”

Williams says Jackson’s training regimen isn’t so unusual these days.

“There are many professional hockey teams in the NHL who work with skating coaches,” Williams says. “Any hockey player who is going to be halfway decent — if he has good skating skills, it will make the game and his playing so much better.”

Williams worked with Jackson to develop good alignment over his skates and know where his weight was to get the most power and explosiveness.

“If you can acquire those skills, you’re more body-aware, so when you’re out there skating in the game you’re not being pulled around,” Williams says. “The forces aren’t working against you, they’re working for you.”

Williams says Jackson is the kind of client a coach hopes for.

“You can have all the ability in the world, but if you don’t have a good work ethic, it works against you,” Williams says. “[Jackson] was really determined to get back on the ice and get into shape so he’d be ready for the season in the fall. Every time I saw him, what we worked on last time was better. He kept his focus.”

“If I did slack at all, they’d be on me right away,” Jackson says. “There’s definitely days when your leg is killing you, and you don’t want to do it. But if you do go through it, you feel so much better.”

Now, Jackson is geared up for the Feb. 5 game against Colorado College — the final game of the 2010–11 rivalry for the Gold Pan Trophy.

“The last time they played us, they embarrassed us pretty bad, so I’m looking to come out a lot stronger and play a more complete game,” he says.

Despite all his hard work, he knows that one day hockey will end.

“My parents always stressed that school comes first,” Jackson says.

In the 2008–09 season, he was named to the All-WCHA Academic Team and earned WCHA Scholar-Athlete status for achieving at least a 3.5 GPA. The redshirt junior doesn’t yet know what his career will look like.

“I want to be involved in sports. If I could be involved in hockey somehow, that’d be great.”

Regardless of where he ends up, Jackson is sure to have a great future, thanks to his positive outlook.

“I think the biggest thing [to realize] is that life’s not always going to go the way you like,” Jackson says. “There’s always going to be setbacks, and you just have to deal with them and know that you can make it. Keep working hard, and something will break for you.”

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