In recognition of Jackson Cates’ first NHL game on Friday (he took the ice for the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden versus the New York Rangers), we share this feature from his time as a Waterloo Black Hawk. This article first appeared in the February 2018 edition of Hawk Tawk Mag-E-Zine, the Waterloo Black Hawks’ exclusive season ticket holder newsletter.
The puck slipped to Jackson Cates in the high slot.
Late in the opening period during the first game after Christmas, the Black Hawks were on the power play. Working as the fourth forward on that special teams unit, Cates stepped toward the net, bounced off a defender, and – while losing balance – slid a perfect pass to Garrett Wait, who scored into an open side.
It was a brilliant play at an opportune time. Cates helped Waterloo take a 1-0 lead on a night when his parents, grandpa, and friends were on hand for the game.
His little brother was at the rink in Omaha, too…playing for the Lancers.
“He keeps his cards pretty close to the vest, but the smile tells a lot,” said Hawks Coach P.K. O’Handley, thinking back to watching Waterloo’s leading goal scorer during that game.
“Of course, I got the smile [from him that] night, and rightfully so. Jackson had a heck of a game and we needed that too.”
Cates also scored in the second period, and the Hawks prevailed 3-0.
Throughout the holidays, there had been some buildup around the Cates household as Jackson and his brother, Noah (16 months younger), prepared to square off for the first time in the United States Hockey League.
“It was more family and friends that talked about it than us talking about it,” Jackson remembered. “We didn’t really like, brag, or anything, but it was definitely fun knowing that we would play each other next... especially after playing with him my whole life, on the same line and everything.”
And the number one question the Cates brothers heard during the season of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men?”
“A lot of people asked if we were going to fight each other and stuff like that,” Jackson remembered. “We joked around and said ‘Yeah, you never know.’ It was fun.”
Back in Waterloo after Christmas, Cates heard about the matchup from his coaches and teammates.
“[We] ribbed him a little bit, and he just gave his normal smile,” said O’Handley, “so I would guess the older brother wanted to let the little brother know who’s in charge.”
Whatever Cates had expected, the reality of taking the ice in these circumstances was a little different than what he had experienced during his first season-and-a-half in the league.
“At times it was weird,” Jackson conceded. “When he was on the ice and I was on the bench, I would just get caught watching him sometimes. It was different, that’s for sure.”
Just over a week later, in Omaha again, the elder Cates would make another spectacular play, but it was Noah who celebrated last that night.
The Hawks trailed 2-1 with under a minute remaining and were shorthanded. Noah had assisted on both Omaha goals, and the Lancers were in position to level the series as tension built among the 3,300 fans at Ralston Arena.
Waterloo pulled Matej Tomek to the bench, and with 30 seconds to go, Jackson brought the puck into the Lancer zone. Drawing all the attention from the Omaha defense, he was knocked to a knee as he moved toward the top of the crease. Yet Cates still connected on a feed to Jack Drury, who snapped a shot to the back of the net as defensemen and goaltender Vincent Purpura sprawled in vain to stop the puck.
A jubilant celebration did not last long. Omaha won the game 34 seconds into overtime.
Besides delivering the game-saving goal on Jackson’s assist, Drury might have also provided the best remark about the Cates-against-Cates series.
“Drury told me, then my brother told me after the game that Drury had said to him, ‘Your mom likes Jackson better.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”
When they were on the ice directly against each other, Jackson says his interactions with Noah were a little more subtle.
“We ended up playing each other on the ice a good amount in all three games. We faced off against each other a few times and would just say a couple words and take the draw…just like ‘What’s up’ or something, nothing too much.”
The rubber game in the series was played at Young Arena on January 14th. The Cates family was again well-represented in the stands for the Sunday afternoon matchup.
Noah scored the first goal midway through the opening period, but Wait tied the score before intermission, and Bobby Trivigno gave Waterloo the lead during the first minute of the second period. The Hawks would stay in front from that point onward, eventually securing two points by way of the 5-2 final.
“Over the summer, I’ll have the bragging rights, so that’ll be good,” Jackson smiled.
That assumes the Hawks and Lancers don’t meet again after the regular season schedule runs out.
“You never know with playoffs, but that could be a little more feisty,” Jackson admits. “I feel like it could get a little more personal in the playoffs compared to the first three games, but I guess we’ll have to find out.”
On a longer timeline, Jackson and Noah will be teammates again when they both wear the maroon and gold of Minnesota-Duluth. That’s where another set of brothers with a tie to Waterloo have been reunited this winter. Freshman and sophomore Mikey and Joey Anderson skated against each other in the USHL during January of 2016 when Mikey was a Hawk and Joey was with the National Team Development Program.
“I know they’re loving it together up in Duluth,” Jackson noted.
And at least for the moment, he will be the undisputed titleholder in the Cates family, although that was a fact he downplayed.
“I just thought it was fun to see all of my family and friends come down to Waterloo when we played each other. We got pictures with everyone, and I got to talk to my brother after the game, so it was pretty cool.”
It’s definitely easier to be a gracious big brother when the little brother knows who’s in charge.
Photo provided by Stephanie Lyn Photography.