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NorCal Kid Robby Jackson Makes Impressive USHL Debut

04/21/2014, 12:45pm MDT
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

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.

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Life of an NHL Official: Part II

02/25/2015, 11:00pm MST
By USA Hockey Officiating Program

A follow-up to Ian Walsh's NHL career-path article (see Stripes - February 2015)

For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials. 

USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?

Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.  

USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season? 

Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that. 

The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.

USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?

Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.

USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official? 

Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.

USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career? 

Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.

USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?  

Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.

USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?

Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.

USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career? 

Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.

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