How UND freshman forward Jackson Blake became a puck-handling wizard

Since The Ralph opened in 2001, only four UND rookies have tallied a point per game: Zach Parise, Brady Murray, T.J. Oshie and Brock Boeser. Jackson Blake is on pace to join them.

Jackson Blake poses for a photo as a youth hockey player in Anaheim, Calif.
Submitted photo

GRAND FORKS — Growing up, Jackson Blake always wanted to try new stickhandling tricks.

He pulled ideas from everywhere.

Some came from watching Teemu Selanne, an Anaheim Ducks teammate of his father, Jason.

Other ideas came from Ducks star Bobby Ryan.

"I think he was my favorite player," Blake said. "He was such a good guy to me, too. He would always bring me out when I could skate with them. He'd always be by me and showing me different things. Obviously, he had some of the best hands in the NHL when he played. He did some crazy things."


Other times, inspiration came from playing the EA Sports NHL video game.

"There are so many different things you can do on there," Blake said. "I'd play it, then I'd go out and try to translate it to my game.

"I always wanted to get better and try new things. I would always go out on the Sport Court (outdoors) and I just wanted to try tricks and stuff."

It's safe to say he's mastered them.

Blake has become a magician with the puck, and he's using those skills to take the National Collegiate Hockey Conference by storm as a UND freshman.

Blake enters this weekend's series against St. Cloud State (7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday, Ralph Engelstad Arena) with 33 points in 29 games — one more point than his father had as a college freshman.

Since Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001, only four UND freshmen have finished with a point-per-game average — Zach Parise, Brady Murray, T.J. Oshie and Brock Boeser. Blake is on track to join them.

He's also making a run at the NCHC scoring title.


In league games, Blake has 22 points in 18 games. He's in a three-way tie for second place, three points back of leader Jami Krannila, a senior at St. Cloud State. Boeser is the only rookie to ever win the NCHC scoring title. He did it in 2015-16.

Blake is emerging as a frontrunner for NCHC rookie of the year.

In league games, he has a three-point edge on Western Michigan freshman Ryan McAllister and a four-point lead on Minnesota Duluth rookie Ben Steeves.

"He's a competitor," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's just a hockey player that loves to play the game with passion, coming to the rink every day, trying to maximize his day. He's not the biggest guy on the ice, but his hockey sense is elite."

Starting in hockey

Blake started on skates at about age 3 and immediately took to the sport.

Although he grew up around NHL rinks — his father played for the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks during Jackson's lifetime — he wasn't always in the stands.

"I never even wanted to watch the game," Blake said. "I just wanted to play ministicks in the hallway with the other players' kids."

Blake, who mostly grew up in Eden Prairie, Minn., finally got into watching as he grew older.


He recalls following UND's NCAA tournament games and falling in love with the program during the 2015-16 season, when the Fighting Hawks won their eighth national title.

His father took him to a game that year.

"I remember going down and walking by the old weight room," Blake said. "I remember looking through the window and seeing Brock Boeser. I was like, 'Oh my God, there he is.' I watched him on TV all the time and stuff.

"I think the Boeser, (Nick) Schmaltz and (Drake) Caggiula line was probably one of the best lines ever in college hockey. That was super fun to watch them play, see the things they did. Every night, they'd bring it."

On that trip, Blake decided if he ever had the opportunity to play at UND, he would take it.

Jackson Blake (right) stands with his father, Jason, in front of UND's Olympic Wall in the locker room.
Submitted photo

St. Cloud State contacted Blake the summer before he committed to UND, but he was honest with the Huskies' staff.

"I told them there's only one spot I want to go and that's North Dakota," Blake said. "It's unbelievable here. I'm very fortunate for what the coaching staff gives me. The guys have been unbelievable. It's such a great group. Everything is just awesome. The schedule is perfect. I don't even know how to put it into words. It's so fun here, I never want to leave this place."

Blake, a fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021, has impressed his teammates.


"He works hard, don't get me wrong," forward Louis Jamernik V said, "but he's just so skilled and slick. The puck seems like it's glued to his stick. He makes great plays and elevates his teammates and linemates with him."

Defenseman Ryan Sidorski added: "The puck is on a rope on his stick. You can't get it off his stick. In practice, he's one of the toughest players to get the puck from."

Berry said Blake has an uncanny ability to retain puck possession.

"At the very last minute, when you think it's going to be a turnover, he has some way of possessing the puck or getting it back, which drives possession," Berry said. "That's huge in offense. He's done a lot for a freshman."

Challenges will come, though.

Teams are starting to game plan around Blake, just as they have with UND junior forward Riese Gaber.

"He's not a hidden secret or a mystery anymore," Berry said. "He's one of our better players as a freshman and he's going to be paid attention to. He's going to have to fight through some things here, because whenever he's on the ice, he becomes a threat offensively."

111922 S GFH UNDMHKYP30227.jpg
UND forward Jackson Blake shoots the puck past Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson (32) for a third-period goal during a home hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Nov. 19, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald


Future goals

One day, Blake's father sent him a link to the YouTube video of UND's 1997 NCAA national championship game against Boston University. Jason and his teammates brought home the sixth of the program's eight NCAA titles that day.

"I watched the end of it and it gave me chills," Blake said.

While Blake has a list of things he wants to accomplish at UND — getting faster and stronger are priorities — No. 1 is hanging UND's ninth NCAA national title banner.

"Everyone wants to win a national championship," Blake said. "Whether that's this year or the future, that's probably the biggest goal."

A young Jackson Blake (left) stands in front of the locker room gate in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Submitted photo

No. 6 St. Cloud State at UND

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV: CBS Sports Network on Friday; Midco Sports on Saturday.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Stream: on Saturday only.

Jackson Blake

Class: Freshman.
Position: Winger.
Size: 5-11, 165.
Hometown: Eden Prairie, Minn.
NHL rights: Carolina Hurricanes (4th round, 2021).

102122 UND Minnesota hockey5.jpg
UND's Jackson Blake works to poke the puck past Minnesota goalie Justen Close in the third period of an October 2022 game.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald


NCHC scoring race

League games only
1. Jami Krannila, sr, SCSU, 25 points
2t. Jackson Blake, fr, UND, 22
2t. Jason Polin, sr, WMU, 22
2t. Massimo Rizzo, so, DU, 22
5. Zach Okabe, sr, SCSU, 20
6. Ryan McAllister, fr, WMU, 19
7t. Jack Peart, so, SCSU, 18
7t. Ben Steeves, fr, Duluth, 18

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
What To Read Next
Get Local