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From On-Ice Official to ESPN Rules Analyst: Dave Jackson’s Journey and Insights

EDITOR’S NOTE: Videos produced by Spencer Jackson and Camille Bova/ESPN NHL Production.

After three decades serving as a referee in the National Hockey League, Dave Jackson has transitioned to become ESPN’s newest rules analyst, assisting the commentator teams with on-ice calls throughout the regular season and now during the Stanely Cup Playoffs.

Catch Jackson in action tonight as the Florida Panthers take on the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference Final at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.

Check out the full Eastern Conference Finals schedule.

How did you end up becoming an on-ice official, and how’d you land here at ESPN?

As a teen, I decided I would rather referee hockey than get up at 6 a.m. to deliver newspapers to make some cash. Growing up in Montreal, I always wanted to be in the NHL – but I realized at 18 that it wouldn’t happen, so I focused strictly on refereeing while attending college. I worked my way through the Quebec major junior hockey league and was noticed at age 21 by Bryan Lewis, the NHL’s Director of Officiating Development in 1986. He invited me to training camp that September and I stayed there for 32 years.

When ESPN got the NHL rights back in 2021, ESPN’s Mark Gross reached out, saying my name had been floated his way and asked if I’d be interested in the position. The rest is history.

Jackson working from his setup in Bristol (Camille Bova/ESPN Production)

What’s the hardest part of being an on-ice official and in your new role as a rules analyst for us?

Dave Jackson on set (Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)

Being an on-ice official is tough because you need to react instantly with only one look at what happened. Hockey is the fastest game there is, and refs are skating, always trying to get the best sight lines possible. As an analyst, the toughest part for me is remembering that I get to see something in slow-motion replay three or four times to fully understand what happened, whereas the guys on the ice do not get that benefit. Keeping that in mind helps me be less critical of them when they get something wrong.  

NHL on ESPN Analyst Ray Ferraro discussing what it's like to work with Jackson -- on and off the ice

How do you stay prepared to talk about a call when there are multiple games happening simultaneously?

There have been times when we’ve had three games going at once due to overtime, and it can be stressful. I’ve got multiple play-by-play announcers and analysts, plus three producers all talking in my head, and I’m constantly scanning three monitors looking for goals, fights, or injured players. When something happens that I need to comment on, I let the other two producers know that I’ll be unavailable for a couple of minutes, then I turn down all their volume knobs. 

NHL on ESPN Commentator Steve Levy on why Jackson is an MVP

What are the main differences between working on games at home and in Bristol during the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Jackson's studio setup in Bristol (Camille Bova/ESPN Production)

Working in Bristol and working from home are truly interchangeable. The tech crew in Bristol did an amazing job of recreating the exact setup I have at home, making the transition seamless. However, nothing compares to the thrill of being on-site, as I was during the finals in 2022. The atmosphere, the sights and smell of a hockey rink, and the ability to see everything that’s going on are incomparable. 

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