Jackson Steinlauf started judo as an after-school activity in second-grade and though he never thought he’d do it competitively, when he eventually competed in local tournaments, he had success.
Still, nerves would get the best of him.
“I would get so nervous that I would make myself sick, cry before and after I won because I was nervous for the next one,” he said. “When I was about 12 (years-old), I started to learn how to control my nerves and how important sticking to a routine was. I started to be more confident during competitions, which (led) to even more wins.”
Steinlauf won Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana state championships on multiple occasions.
“I started competing locally at age 7 and won nationals on two different occasions. I have other national medals for 2nd and 3rd place, too,” he said.
Steinlauf has competed in judo across America – from Indianapolis to Irving, Texas, from Nevada to North Carolina.
“Competing in an individual sport, in front of tons of people, with no teammates to depend on has helped me stay calm on the ice and made me appreciate my teammates,” said Steinlauf, a junior who lives in Chicago and is in his second season skating on the Saint Ignatius varsity team. “Judo made me stronger. I am on the smaller side and had to use strength and technique to win against bigger kids who cut way more weight than I did. My parents never let me cut too much weight when I was younger while other athletes cut a ton of weight. I often was the lightest in my weight division. I had to be stronger physically and mentally to overcome the size difference. I had to be disciplined to make weight before competing and staying focused during long days of tournaments.
“I learned to appreciate my teammates and the benefits of team sports. I never really get down on myself because judo is an individual so my downs in judo were all alone, but I can lean on my teammates in hockey.”
Judo is a “mental game,” just like hockey, Steinlauf said. “(Judo) has helped me with my hockey IQ. Also, judo taught me how to use size to my advantage athletically. I have to be fast and smart in both sports. In judo, you need to keep your head up and focus on what the other competitor is doing to avoid getting thrown to (the) ground or pinned, just like hockey. It requires strategy, tactics and knowing when to strike your opponent, just like hockey.”
Steinlauf, 16, who lives in Chicago and formerly skated for the Jets before joining the Wolfpack, is a left-hander in jersey No. 33 who skates alongside Austin Haynes and Collum Chinlund. He is a calm, smart, fast two-way player who notes said that his biggest strength on the ice is his hockey IQ, “which helps me play effectively at such a small size,” he said. The 5-foot-7 Steinlauf tips the scale at 140-pounds.
Steinlauf scored the game-winning overtime goal during the 2021-22 season in the Central States Developmental Hockey League (CSDHL) with the Jets – and his game continues to shine and improve.
“I gained 25 pounds this summer by lifting (weights), which has allowed me to play better and more physical. I wasn’t good enough defensively last year to play on the penalty kill … now my coaches have put a lot of trust in me in that part of the game.
“I have learned to work with new teammates, be a leader and better teammate on the bench. I acknowledge that I need to work on being a better teammate, but I have taken steps in the right directions.”
Steinlauf and Haynes last season were the only sophomores to play on senior night – and both scored in what turned out to be a one-goal game against Fenwick in front of a raucous, standing-room-only game. “Sharing that with Austin was awesome,” he said.
“My teammates motivate me,” Steinlauf said. “These games mean as much to them as me. We have two years left to win a championship. My teammates are my best friend. There is nothing better than winning games with them.”
Ignatius finished sixth in the 11-team SHL this season, posting an 18-12 record. Forward Tiernan Ryan led the Wolfpack with 20 goals, 24 assists in the 30 regular season games. Michael Hollub was second (12 goals, 14 assists), followed by Steinlauf (14, 10).
Steinlauf had a point in 8 of the team’s last 10 games and multi-goal games against Fenwick and Saint Viator.
“We are very good this year and will surprise a lot of people. We have a lot of people from my ‘07 Jets team that won a lot of state championships; I think we will peak in the playoffs,” Steinlauf said. “We are a young team with nothing to lose. The team has a great bond and the coaches have put together a great team. There is a large group that has played together since mites and squirts and are close friends. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we know how to win championships. The entire time wants to win for each other, especially the seniors.
“The coaches do a great job with team-bonding; I see them as my friends sometimes because of how close we have gotten with them. Jeff Rogers, our assistant coach, is always there for me personally and I feel like me and him have built a special bond.”
So, can the Wolfpack grind its way into the United Center for a shot at the club’s first-ever state championship?
Yes, absolutely, he said.
“This team can win the state championship,” he stressed.
Ryan is one of many reasons optimism carries a wicked slapshot into the end of the season for Saint Ignatius. “I want to acknowledge how great Tiernan Ryan has been for this team. He has and will continue to give us big-time goals when needed most,” Steinlauf said. “Playing in both the SHL and the Chicago Catholic Hockey League has been pretty taxing on our bodies, but we are almost at the end (of the season) and are still very healthy. I think we will be the most fit team in state because of this schedule.”
Steinlauf is fully hockey-focused, especially since the dojo he trained at closed during the pandemic. “I miss judo and wish I had the time to keep up my judo career,” he said. “Even though I was (very good) at judo, hockey has always been my favorite.”
Golf also drives his sporting ways. “I have hit golf balls with my father since I was very young,” he said. “My father was a great golfer and always was motivated to learn the game so we could play together. I just started playing more the past couple years and worked as a caddy this (past) summer.
“I’m not great at golf, but it is good for team-bonding. Most of our team golfs together in the summer and it is a great way to stay close and keep chemistry in the off-season.”