As Robby Jackson rapidly developed his hockey skills in northern California, it became clear that one day he was going to need to leave home to fully reach his potential.
Jackson has hurried that process along, taking steps each of the last three seasons to arrive, at 16, as one of the top young players in the United States Hockey League.
Two seasons ago, parents Bob and Chris Jackson began commuting to southern California on weekends to take then-14-year-old Robby to play for the Los Angeles Selects Bantam AAA team.
Last season, Robby moved in with a teammate’s family during the season to play with the Los Angeles Junior Kings. His performance there led to the Chicago Steel selecting him in the USHL Draft. Jackson moved to the Midwest this season to play with the Steel in the top junior hockey league in the nation.
“We kind of knew playing hockey in California that if I wanted to pursue it seriously, eventually I would have to move away from home,” Jackson said. “I think 15 years old, my parents didn’t expect it to happen that young and, to be honest, neither did I.”
Now that he is ahead of schedule, Jackson would like to remain there.
The Alameda resident plans to spend his senior year of high school back in Chicago with the Steel. Although the USHL is loaded with postgraduate players, Jackson hopes continued improvement will prepare him to move to the next level as soon as possible.
“In an ideal world, I would like to enter college my true freshman year,” Jackson said.
Those goals seem more realistic after the way Jackson wrapped up his first season in the USHL.
Jackson’s goal in the season finale gave him 28 for the season, the most in the USHL’s Tier I era. He surpassed the total of 27 established by Taylor Cammarata with the Waterloo Black Hawks two years ago by piling up 13 goals in the final 15 games of the season. Jackson’s mother learned through social media that he had set the league’s 16-year-old scoring record and passed the word to him.
“I was clueless,” he said. “I had no idea. I guess it showed that all the hard work had paid off.”
Although he ultimately became a force as a scorer — leading the Steel despite being the youngest player on the roster — Jackson said the jump all the way to the USHL as a youngster was a challenging one.
“The players are just so good,” Jackson said. “They can do some things that just make your jaw drop, whether it be with the puck or without the puck.
“Some guys can go coast-to-coast as defensemen and some can break the glass with their hip checks. The caliber of the players is phenomenal, and they play the game the right way.
“It makes the league very hard to play in.”
Jackson made it look easier by the time he was done. His late scoring surge began with a hat trick and five-point effort in a 7-3 win over Muskegon on Feb. 22.
“As the year went on, I started to get more and more comfortable with the league and started getting a little more confident,” said Jackson, who tied for second in the league with six game-winning goals. “I wasn’t second-guessing myself and, in turn, started playing better and scoring more.”
The Steel fell short of the playoffs with a 29-27-4 record. The 5-foot-9, 174-pounder said he hopes off-season workouts will help him get stronger and faster to help lead the team to the playoffs next year.
“I’ll be working on my feet, that part of the game,” Jackson said, “the skating stride, the first couple of steps.”
His late-season efforts showed Jackson is a couple of steps closer to achieving his ultimate goals in the game.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.