BY SAMANTHA ELLIOTT
Jason Durbin’s family members joke around that he is going to be a trivia card question one day. With Durbin’s resume, it may take a few cards.
Durbin’s story started the same way many young boys’ stories start. He had two older brothers who played hockey and he was, after all, from Trenton. It was only a matter of time before Durbin himself laced up skates for the first time. Durbin did just that at an age he can’t even remember and while most close their hockey stories at graduation, Durbin’s is still going, 30 years later. His resume is quite an impressive one, and quite a long one.
It started with the Trenton Learn to Skate Program and he went on to play Triple A for GPD before moving on to Little Caesar’s. Once he got to high school, the accolades started.
Durbin played his sophomore, junior and senior years under Trenton legends Skip Howey and Mike Turner. It was during his senior year, in 1996, that the Trojans won their seventh state title with a perfect 28-0 record and a No 1. rating in the country.
It was after that state championship game that Durbin was awarded the title of Mr. Hockey by the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches’ Association; an award that was only in its third year in existence.
Durbin was the first-ever Trenton player to win the title and three fellow Trojans have followed in his footsteps.
“I was pretty fired up,” Durbin said. “I still remember Mr. Turner as soon as we won the state championship game; we’re all celebrating in the dressing room (and) he proceeds to let everybody know what award everybody got. There’s no question about it, I was excited.”
From there he earned the nickname of his award, Mr. Hockey. And that was just the beginning.
After graduation, Durbin played a three-year career with the Compuware Ambassadors for part of a season and the Danville Wings for two and a half years. In his first year with Danville, Durbin tallied up 23 points in 16 games and had 34 points in 52 games during his second year. In his final year, he received Player of the Month for the month of November for the league and finished with 55 points in 50 games.
“If you’re trying to get a scholarship, you’ve gotta produce,” Durbin said. “I thought I did my part.”
Toward the end of his Danville career, Compuware tried to trade back for Durbin and while the possibility of a scholarship stood on the horizon, Durbin stayed in his captain role with Danville. If something was meant to be, it would be. If not, he would go to school. In the end, he got what he wanted.
Wayne State University started a hockey program the next year and went Division 1 right away. Durbin became the first player picked in Wayne State history. During his four-year career there, Durbin served as a four-year captain and added several team, coaches’ and league awards, led the team in his first three years in overall points and finished as the program’s leading scoring with 131 points in 136 games.
The team won three consecutive league titles and in 2003, Durbin and his team went on to play in the NCAA tournament in Ann Arbor, falling to No. 1 ranked Colorado College.
“It was surreal for me because during my four years there, we played a lot of big-name programs,” he said. “That last game, because it was so close, all the Michigan fans were coming in because they were playing and they started cheering for us. We gave Colorado College a game and I don’t think many people expected us to.”
Not long after the tournament, Durbin graduated from Wayne State with a bachelor’s degree in business logistics and from there, took a break for a few years. A few years post-college graduation, his yearn to coach started to grow as he thought back on coaches that had helped him through the years.
“I learned a lot, quite a bit, after high school,” Durbin said.
Now the Saginaw Heritage high school hockey coach, J.J. Bamberger helped coach Durbin in junior. Durbin credits his former coach with his success post-high school.
“Me being a center; there’s different tactics to win face offs and he got me to do some other things with face offs and I was pretty proud,” he said. “I haven’t been able to run into him to thank him for it, but it really helped me in my career going forward.”
Durbin got his first taste of coaching with a Midget A team in Frazer where he traveled 50 miles one-way for a season with the team. He eventually came back to coach the youth in Trenton with Carl Olds and Brad Ryznar for a few seasons. That’s when a longtime connection stepped in.
Then Grosse Ile head coach Joe Macci, who was the Best Man in Durbin’s parents’ wedding, asked Durbin if he would like to help out with the varsity team at the high school.
Durbin jumped at the chance. Now, six years later, Durbin is the one who sits at the helm of the varsity Red Devils. While he spends his days as an insurance agent at E.W. Smith Insurance Agency, his nights are busy with his varsity squad. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For me, it’s a blast,” he said. “Every day I get to get on the ice (and) I enjoy doing some of the drills with the kids. It’s fun to not only be able to draw on the board what you wanted them to do, but to actually go and show it as well.”
For Durbin, it’s all about giving back to the community that gave him so much.
“I really enjoy it because this is kind of giving back to the Downriver kids,” he said. “The reason that I did get into coaching is that I know what happened to me and I was very fortunate for it to happen the way that I wanted it to and I would like to see other Downriver kids be able to play college hockey and get scholarships to do that.”
While his own playing days are stored away in boxes of trophies and plaques, Durbin enjoys his days making memories with new generations of hockey and says it is all about his players.
“Ultimately it’s not what I do; ultimately it’s what the players do. They play the game; I don’t anymore,” he said. “I don’t take any credit for the success that any of my teams have because I’m not on the ice. We guide them the best we can, but ultimately it’s up to them to go out there and show what they have and produce. I don’t know how long I’m going to be allowed to do this, but it’s fun.”