WATERLOO — Jackson Cates may look like he is all business during one of his shifts on the ice for the Waterloo Black Hawks hockey team.
When it comes to helping Waterloo win games by winning each of his shifts, the Stillwater, Minn., native has a workmanlike approach.
He can, however, be rattled.
Point in case, during one of the Black Hawks’ three games this season against an Omaha team that features Jackson’s younger brother, Noah, Waterloo teammate Jack Drury had Cates laughing so hard he almost couldn’t finish his shift.
“Jack skated up to Noah and goes, ‘You do know Jackson is your mom’s favorite son,’” recalled Cates.
Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley says they’d like to pull more of those lighter moments out of Cates, but it’s the humble way he approaches life that makes him a special player.
“His personality and his under-the-radar way, you wouldn’t know he is on our team,” O’Handley smiled. “We have a saying around here, ‘Consistency comes from commitment.’
“There is a lot to that. Commitment in everything you do allows you to be the best you can be. That exemplifies Jackson Cates.”
Under the radar doesn’t exactly define Cates’ play these days.
A mid-round pick by Waterloo in Phase II of the 2016 draft, Cates is fourth in the United States Hockey League in scoring with 22 goals and 21 assists. His 43 points are just one behind Youngstown’s Matthew Barry, and four behind league-leader Anthony Del Gaizo of Muskegon.
Cates has been particularly hot recently with 16 points in his last 10 games — nine goals and seven assists. Waterloo has posted an 8-1-1 mark over that same time frame.
“I feel that is more a product of clicking with the guys on my line, and our power play has been good,” said Cates, who skates with Ben Copeland and Solag Bakich.
O’Handley says the addition of defenseman Ben Finkelstein has been instrumental on the power play, where Cates has registered nine of his goals.
“I think they have some chemistry. They definitely complement each other well,” O’Handley said.
Cates grew up playing a lot of sports, but narrowed in on hockey as a high school sophomore. He comes from a hockey family. His dad, Jeff, played at Wisconsin-River Falls, and his uncle, Jay Cates, played at the University of Minnesota.
Jackson racked up 27 goals and 34 assists as a senior while leading Stillwater High to the Minnesota AA state tournament. At the conclusion of the 2016 high school season, Cates was awarded the Herb Brooks Award, which is given to the player in the state tournament who strongly represents the values, characteristics and traits that defined Brooks.
None of that surprises O’Handley.
“During our exit meetings last season, and I will never forget, we go through a gambit of questions,”O’Handley recalled. “And key guys ... Nick Swaney, Shane Bowers, Mikey Anderson, good players all the way around ... it was ‘Jackson Cates. Jackson Cates. Jackson Cates.’
“Each of them said the same thing. ‘Best teammate. Best player on our team.’ The whole gambit. That is from some really good players and it came throughout our whole roster.”
Cates will reunite with former teammates Swaney and Anderson next fall at Minnesota-Duluth, joining current teammate Hunter Lellig and his brother, who both signed with the Bulldogs in November.
“The goal growing up was to play in the USHL, and it has been an awesome experience,” Cates said. “Growing up, UMD was my favorite school and when it came time to sign, it was the right fit.”