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Alameda Native Robby Jackson discusses being invited to Sharks camp

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After the Sharks Prospect Scrimmage, I had the chance to talk to Robby Jackson - one of the tryout players in Sharks development camp this year. Jackson talked about his path through the hockey ranks, including his time with the Santa Clara Blackhawks, a weekly commute down to Long Beach, and getting star-struck by his all-time favorite player at camp this year.

MJB Images via SBN College Hockey

Along with the young Sharks rookies and draft picks who played in Thursday's Prospects Scrimmage, a few young hockey players earned tryouts for development camp. One of these young men was 5'9", 175 pound winger Robby Jackson, a Bay Area native who set records in the USHL and is on the way to playing at St. Cloud State this fall.

Jackson was USHL Rookie of the Year in 2013-14 – joining a list of names that includes Johnny GaudreauAnders LeeMax PaciorettyKyle Okposo, and Joe Pavelski. He also won a Bronze Medal with Team USA in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, going a point-per-game in 5 contests.

I had the chance to sit and talk with Jackson in the locker room after the scrimmage. For a player who is still a month from turning 18, he clearly has a respect for the game well beyond his years, but he hasn't learned all the pro cliches yet and was ready to tell some good stories.

You’re from Alameda, how did it feel to come home and play in front of those fans at the scrimmage for Team Marchment?

It was fun. I had a lot of friends and family members in the crowd that I never really got to play in front of – you know, hometown friends that always knew I played hockey but never got to see me out here, especially on such a big stage. They think I’m kind of a superstar. I have to tell them ‘Nah, it’s not a big deal yet.’ But it was pretty cool. We lost, but I still had a great time. It was great to see some friendly faces in the stands.

You came up through the Santa Clara Blackhawks youth hockey organization. Anyone from those teams you remember that sticks out?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. A lot of people. I guess I’ll just give some shout-outs here. I know I saw my teammate Brooks Hatfield in the stands. Cam and Aidan Ward, they were out there.

And then I saw in warm-ups, some kid was wearing a Santa Clara Blackhawks warm-up jacket. I didn’t know who he was, but it caught my eye, obviously. And next time I was skating around, I looked at him and he kinda popped it and flashed it at me, and I gave him a nice smile, wave, thumbs up. It was cool to see kids who were probably younger than me coming up through the same path who hopefully have the same success I’ve had so far.

What made you decide to make the move down south to play with the LA Selects/Junior Kings organization?

Growing up, I got to play lower levels here in Berkeley, and Fremont, and Oakland. When it got time to move up, I felt that the best opportunity for me was to go down to LA. So freshman year, actually, I lived at home in Alameda, and on Fridays, I would hop on a plane and fly down to Long Beach to play for the LA Selects. I would literally skip gym class. I had an arrangement with the teacher – maybe I shouldn’t say that. But he goes: ‘Hey, you’re going to play hockey nationally to compete, I’ll take care of you for Fridays.’

So I went down, hopped on a plane, and was in Long Beach by 2 o’clock. We had two practices, one at 4:30, one at 7:00 with the Selects, played games on the weekends, and it managed to work. And then sophomore year was the year I had to move away and live away from my family and billet with a teammate and everything. So that was kind of tough, but it prepared me for juniors and eventually college.

Jackson sure seemed to be well-prepared for junior hockey. His 28 goals as a 16 year-old were the most in USHL history for a rookie that age. He finished with 42 points (28-14-42) in 60 games that year. This season, despite being slowed by injuries,

he finished with 38 (14-24-38) points in 44 games between the Chicago Steel and the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Seems like you’ve been having some pretty decent success so far at the USHL level judging just by points and records.

I try not to worry about that stuff too much, but I guess it just happens when you play hockey. I had a lot of fun in the USHL. It’s a great league and I was fortunate to play in it – especially at such a young age and to have the success I did. And I wish I could play in it longer, but it’s hard to turn down going to college. That’s another step in the dream. It was a lot of fun in Chicago and Dubuque, but I’m definitely ready for college, I feel.

You’re going to go play for St. Cloud State in NCAA D1 this fall. That's a big weather change for a California kid.

Yup, St. Cloud State, up in freezing Minnesota. Everyone keeps asking me why I didn’t want to go to Arizona State. [laughs] I said no, I like St. Cloud a lot. A lot of good stuff going on up there. I like the coaches, I like all the guys, the rink and everything. So hopefully we’ll go up there and get a lot of wins, and maybe a national championship, you know, knock on wood. [knocks on wooden locker stall]

Can you talk a little bit about the growth of the sport in the Bay Area?

Yeah, it’s definitely on the come up. A lot of pride here in the Bay Area with everything we do from sports, to music, to the way we dress. And I think that’s no different with hockey. Everyone wants to come up and we idolize the Sharks here. I know, growing up, Mike Ricci was my favorite player. I grew my hair out long like him. I wanted to knock my front teeth out to look like him... Luckily, my parents didn’t let me do that.

But it’s pretty cool, and there’s definitely a lot of talented young kids growing up in the Bay Area. I know I saw a few of them that I know around the rink watching us practice. I know a lot of them are going off to juniors and getting college looks. I think it’s just a matter of time before you start to see a lot of Bay Area guys in the higher levels of hockey.

So how’s it feel to have Ricci as one of your coaches now for this development camp?

Oh man, I was star-struck when he first walked in, and Bryan Marchment. My mom was sending me pictures when I told her that they were here. She was sending pictures of us at fanfest for the Sharks. I was little and couldn’t even stand yet, my dad was carrying me. But there were pictures of me and Marchment, and Ricci, Owen Nolan, and guys like that. I told Ricci and showed him the picture. I told him ‘I still have your bobblehead in my room.’ It’s awesome.

I literally couldn’t speak when he first walked in. I was like ‘Dude, that’s Mike Ricci, man! That’s my all-time favorite.’ And the guy was like, ‘Yeah, he coaches and helps out in Worcester, with the Barracuda now.' So all the guys are used to him, and I’m still a little kid drooling. It’s taking everything I have not to ask for his autograph. It’s definitely awesome. Definitely trying to listen to everything he says, trying to soak it all up.

While he wasn’t on Team Ricci for the Prospects Scrimmage, Jackson didn’t look out of place at all playing with the Sharks prospects. He and Kevin Labanc connected on a few back-and-forth passes in the second half to get a good scoring chance in the second half of the scrimmage.

Thanks again to Robby Jackson for taking the time out for the interview. I wish him the best of luck at St. Cloud State, and hopefully we'll get a chance to see him in teal again someday.