Jackson begins pro career in AHL with San Antonio, finishing schoolwork to graduate from SCSU

Robby Jackson (23) of St. Cloud State shoots the puck on goal against Alex Leclerc (1) of Colorado College on March 22, 2019, during the NCHC semifinal game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Jackson recently signed to play for the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. San Antonio is the top minor league team for the St. Louis Blues. Clint Austin / The Rink Live

By Mick Hatten

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Some jealousy crept in as Robby Jackson described the weather in early afternoon Monday, April 8, in San Antonio. The temperature was in the low 80s and it was sunny, but Jackson had to stay inside.

“I’ve got to finish a paper that’s due tonight,” said Jackson, who is finishing up four college courses to graduate with a degree in broadcast communication this spring. “I’ve got to balance out school and sunshine.

“I’ve got a psychology quiz. I’m just crushing homework down here. My roommates are headed down to the pool and I’ll be up here clicking at the keyboard.”

Jackson recently completed his college hockey eligibility for the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team. Saturday, Jackson signed an amateur tryout contract for the remainder of this season and a two-year contract (through the 2020-21 season) with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.

Jackson, 21, is hoping to make his pro debut for San Antonio, the top minor league team for the St. Louis Blues, on Wednesday. The Rampage (29-37-6-1) play the Texas Stars (36-29-4-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not having any nerves, especially at the morning skate on Saturday,” said Jackson, who was waiting for his physical paperwork to be completed and could not play Saturday night. “(Monday) was the first real practice I’ve gone through with them. As I practiced today, I discovered I went through the whole practice with gloves that were one size too big.

“Being the rookie, I didn’t want to get off the ice, so I just battled it out and I was keeping plays simple. Equipment malfunctions … I’m hoping I don’t get known for that.”

Robby Jackson (23) of St. Cloud State scores a goal on Hunter Shepard (32) of Minnesota Duluth during the 2019 NCHC championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / The Rink Live

Jackson said he did not think that anyone noticed he was wearing the wrong size gloves. That is in stark contrast to the summer of 2017 when Jackson was taking part in development camp for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jackson went onto the ice for his first practice with … his skate guards on.

“This was not a public embarrassment like the skate guards were,” Jackson said. “I was going to take a running start and come out hard, but there was a guy who got out of the gate before me, so I went out slowly and took a casual step. If he wasn’t there, it would have been about 70-80 percent sprint and been really bad.

“That was user error instead of equipment malfunction.”

College players abound

Jackson should have his equipment figured out this week. The Rampage wrap up the regular season with a home game Friday against Texas and then Saturday back at Texas.

He joins a San Antonio team with 10 other active players on its roster with college experience. That includes four other players who played for teams in the NCHC: forwards Austin Poganski (North Dakota, 2014-18) and Charlie Sampair (Minnesota Duluth, 2012-16) and defensemen Joey Laleggia (Denver, 2011-15) and Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota, 2012-15).

Jackson said that he skated with Poganski, who is from St. Cloud, Minn., some last summer at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center when Poganski was working at a summer camp. He also had a unique experience during practice Wednesday.

“We were doing a 3-on-3 drill and I was on the ice with Joey Laleggia and Jordan Schmaltz and someone said that it was an All-NCHC group,” he said. “That was kind of cool.

“There is a lot of college guys (on this team) and that makes the whole bonding process easier. Everyone has their stories about college.”

Part of Jackson wishes he was still playing college hockey. The NCAA Division I Frozen Four will be Thursday-Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y. Jackson and the Huskies were the top-ranked team going into the national tournament, but got upset by American International College in the opening round.

Despite that disappointment, Jackson (@RobbyJackson23) made a couple of Twitter posts for his gratitude for his time at St. Cloud State. On March 30, he sent out a tweet that read, “I’m jealous of everyone who gets to play another game in an SCSU jersey. Best 4 years of my life. Thank you to the coaches, staff, and my teammates for everything.”

He nearly sent out another tweet because of an important group that he forgot in that tweet, but then got some help. The St. Cloud State student section is called “The Dog Pound” and the group has a Twitter account (@SCSUDogPound). Jackson and former Huskies defenseman Jimmy Schuldt did a short video to thank the fans.

“I almost sent out another tweet apologizing because I forgot our fans and they’ve been a huge part of our four years at St. Cloud,” Jackson said. “Then one of the students very involved in The Dog Pound reached out to me and asked if they could get a couple guys to do a thank you for the season to the fans.

“Jimmy and I were still in town and we were practicing and we did it after that. We could have talked for 10 minutes about how grateful we are to the fans. We meant every word of that video.

St. Cloud State senior forward Robby Jackson celebrates his power-play goal in the first period on Friday, March 15, 2019, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. The Huskies beat Miami 5-2 in Game 1 of the NCHC playoffs. Maddie MacFarlane/St. Cloud State University

7th SCSU player to sign

Jackson is the seventh player off the 2018-19 St. Cloud State roster to sign a pro contract since the end of the season. The others are: Schuldt (Vegas Golden Knights, NHL), Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens, NHL), Blake Lizotte (Los Angeles Kings, NHL), Jon Lizotte (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), Jacob Benson (Jacksonville Icemen, ECHL) and Patrick Newell (Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL).

Newell, who is from Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Jackson (Alameda, Calif.) were roommates for three seasons at St. Cloud State and linemates this season.

“Pat has been in three games and he hasn’t scored and he told me I better not score in my first game to show him up,” Jackson said of Newell, who was the NCHC Forward of the Year as a senior.

Jackson, who was undrafted, said that he owes part of signing his deal with San Antonio to Schuldt, who was one of the hottest undrafted college players on the market.

“Maybe I need to thank Jimmy Schuldt because (the St. Louis Blues) were high on him all year and they ended up watching me, too,” he said. “I was talking to some teams and I was close to making a decision and then my advisor called me and said that St. Louis was in the mix now.

“They made the offer and I liked it. I weighed all the options and this was the best situation for me.”

His senior season, Jackson had career-bests in goals (19), plus/minus (plus-22) and shots on goal (119) in 37 games. He finished with 40 points and four game-winning goals.

For his career, he is tied for 16th in the program’s career Division I list for goals (52), tied for 17th in points (121) and tied for 23rd in assists (69) in 149 career games.

Here’s a list of the 11 former college players currently on the active roster for San Antonio:

D Chris Butler (Denver, 2005-08)

G Jared Coureau (Northern Michigan, 2010-13)

F Robby Jackson (St. Cloud State, 2015-19)

D Joey Laleggia (Denver, 2011-15)

F Stephen Perfetto (Lake Superior State, 2011-15)

F Austin Poganski (North Dakota, 2014-18)

D Mitch Reinke (Michigan Tech, 2016-18)

F Charlie Sampair (Minnesota Duluth, 2012-16)

D Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota, 2012-15)

F Nolan Stevens (Northeastern, 2014-18)

D Jake Walman (Providence, 2014-17)

Mick Hatten can be reached at mhatten@forumcomm.com. Follow @MickHatten on Twitter, Instagram.
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