Building the Herd – Ashley Jackson

#?? Ashley Jackson

Position: Forward

Born: Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 29th June

Field hockey Olympian Ashley Jackson swaps Invicta for Basingstoke as his on ice home for 2017/18.
(c) BBC

The Herd’s roster building process continues and with the majority of players signed up either returning players or players with a connection to the club, Doug Sheppard has announced the first true new player of the summer with the signing of Ashley Jackson from Invicta.

A look through Elite Prospects does not yield much for the 29 year old Jackson. The stats available for the former Medway Bears junior player are few and far between, though impressive. Having never played much of a full campaign until last season, Jackson’s stats with the Invicta Mustangs in NIHL 2 South and the Dynamos make for impressive reading where he has never been below a point per game. Jackson made 9 appearances in 2 seasons across 4 years for the Mustangs scoring 24 goals and 30 points at the ENL/NIHL 2 level before moving up to the Dynamos in 2014.

Jackson appeared sparingly in 2014/15 appearing 6 times and scoring 4 goals and 7 points before taking the 2015/16 season off the ice and returning to the Kent side for 2016/17 which was his first full senior season of ice hockey. Jackson more than impressed as he scored 18 goals and 37 points in 20 regular season games before an impressive 5 goals and 10 points in 6 playoff games as Invicta won the NIHL1 South playoff title with their shock win over Chelmsford. Jackson was also named to the NIHL 1 South first all-star team. The NIHL 1 South all star awards are organised by ProHockeyNews.com and were voted for by the coaches and senior players in the league.

So why are there all the gaps in the numbers? Why are there so few stats on the Bison’s latest signing? If you head to Google and type in “Ashley Jackson hockey” then you will quickly see why. Jackson is one of Britain’s highest profile and best field hockey players.

Ashley and his brother Wesley came through the ranks at East Grinstead Hockey Club, one of the oldest and best teams in the country. Jackson made his England debut at the age of 19 in 2007 and impressed during the 2007 Champions Challenge and 2007 European Nations Cup campaigns. It was enough to earn Jackson a place on the GB team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics where GB finished 5th. In 2009, Jackson was the first English player to be named the FIH World Young Player of the Year as England won gold at the EuroHockey Nations Championship.

Jackson’s club hockey shifted between East Grinstead and Dutch side HGC based near Den Hague as well as continuing to star on the international stage. Jackson and England won the Hockey Champions Trophy before they finished 4th at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which they followed up with a bronze medal at the 2011 EuroHockey Nations championship. The next year saw GB finish 4th at the 2012 Olympics in London where Jackson scored 6 goals and was joint second top scorer in the tournament.

Swapping between his off-ice and on ice exploits, Jackson then won bronze with England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow before stepping off ice to concentrate on playing for Holcombe and his third Olympic games in Rio as GB finished 9th. After one season with Holcombe where he won the English title, Jackson returned to East Grinstead

Since 2015, Jackson has also taken a starring role in Hockey League India with the Ranchi Rays. Jackson is the league’s top scorer and won the 2015 HLI title with the Rays where he is also captain.

Along with representing Great Britain at three Olympic Games, Jackson is England’s record goal scorer and is the only Bison roster member to be verified on Twitter.

That was a more lengthy description of someone’s exploits prior to signing than we generally give someone but it made sense to give some context to the player that the Bison have just signed. Doug Sheppard has signed a legitimate two sport athlete and someone that doesn’t just bring hockey skills to the table for the Bison.

Jackson is an elite sportsman; you don’t compete in multiple international tournaments and three Olympic Games if you’re not. As mentioned above, Jackson played both versions of hockey as a junior before choosing to focus on the grass over the ice so he didn’t come to the sport from a standing start.

However it’s really obvious to see that those skills he uses in field hockey have served him in good stead. Jackson is known for his scoring and that’s been the story in both codes. That sort of scoring threat will always be welcome on the ice and Jackson’s ability and physical skill to make space for himself to score is going to come in handy especially with the loss of Ciaran Long to Manchester.

There are some big questions that lurk over the signing and the first major one is just how much we see of him. Doug Sheppard says in the Gazette that Jackson “wants to commit to ice hockey” but fans will wonder about how much field hockey will play a part.

Jackson has been a topic of discussion in field hockey circles as there seemed to be a “Will he? Won’t he?” surrounding his involvement with GB for the 2020 Olympics but that appears to have ended with Jackson being out of the GB squad going forward. However the lure to return to India for their season may well be strong. The season is short; only 10 games but in a franchise league where your club is owned by cricket legend MS Dhoni, you’re the captain and leading scorer and the chance is there to make a decent chunk of money, do the Bison lose Jackson for all of January and February? That’s aside from any commitments he might have to club hockey in Britain.

Sheppard won’t have made an agreement to sign Ashley without both sides being happy with it. If Jackson is to miss playing time then the club will hopefully make this clear when and what time he will be out, if at all.

The flip side is that we may get a full season out of a player who, whilst he doesn’t have loads of senior ice hockey games under his belt, is a naturally talented athlete with a knack for goal scoring and in a season where he played 20 regular season games was voted an NIHL all-star by the players and coaches. Even if the EPL was still around, that seems like a good chance to take on a player.

Where he fits in will be interesting. Does Jackson go onto the second line or third line? The roster needs bulking out at the moment before we know 100% but with such a natural scorer do you try him out with Davies and Antonov as his centre and see who he clicks best with? The other big aspect to Jackson’s game is that he’s a really good two way player with a lot of energy and Sheppard will need to factor that in to how best to use him.

The Bison have signed a proper genuine professional attitude. He’s a winner and with that comes a winner’s attitude and determination. It’s a bit of a novelty signing but it won’t be if Jackson delivers in the way he did last season for the Dynamos.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Ashley.

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