California natives Jackson, Newell looking to carry St. Cloud State during senior seasons
When you first talk with Robby Jackson and Patrick Newell, they seem like unlikely candidates to be roommates, much less best friends.
Yet that is exactly what the St. Cloud State University senior forwards are.
The loquacious Jackson, who is from Alameda, regularly displays every bit of the broadcast communication major that he is. For further evidence of his media prowess, check out the clips from the recent NCHC media day in which he hosted interviews with all eight schools’ coaches and captains, trading friendly and sometimes hilariously pointed banter with friends and foes alike.
The business-like and business-majoring Newell, a three-time All-NCHC Academic Team pick from Thousand Oaks, meanwhile, maintains a calm, even demeanor on and off the ice.
Yet there is no NorCal vs. SoCal conflict between two players with opposite but apparently complementary personalities.
Their games have complemented whomever they’ve played with, and they played key roles in helping the Huskies stay at or near the top of the polls nearly all of last season.
Jackson led an offense that finished fourth in Division I hockey in scoring with 42 points, including 15 goals (second on the team). He fired 111 shots, third most on the team, while seven of his goals came on special teams.
But there is much more to Jackson’s game than offense, said longtime Huskies assistant coach Mike Gibbons.
“Robby is strong, tough to get off the puck,” Gibbons said. “He’s one of our top two penalty killers. He and Ryan (Poehling, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens) are tenacious, intelligent and coachable.
“The game is changing. Today, penalty killers have to be instinctive and have a good feel for the game. And Robby has some deception to his game, how he sets up shots and sets up teammates.
“When he’s on, his tenacity on the forecheck and in front of the net causes problems for the other team.”
Jackson has gone from 17 points as a freshman to 21 points his second season to last season’s breakout performance.
“The first thing I think of with Robby is his confidence,” Newell said. “His game has gotten more refined as the years have gone by. His shot is better, his agility with the puck is better.”
Jackson, who played for the Santa Clara Blackhawks, LA Hockey Club and the LA Jr. Kings growing up, credits his teammates as much as anything for his offensive eruption in 2017-18.
“It didn’t hurt playing with a first-round pick (Poehling) and (star freshman Easton) Brodzinski,” Jackson deadpanned. “Then I had an all-American defenseman with me (Jimmy Schuldt) on the power play. How could I not score a lot of points?
“Seriously, a lot of credit goes to those guys. I like to shoot but I’ll be the first one to say I’m not upset when they shoot.”
And that is something Newell could do a bit more of, Gibbons said.
“He’s very gifted with the puck,” the coach said. “He could score more because he has such a quick release. He needs to shoot it more.”
Playing on such a talent-laden roster, Newell really hasn’t had to.
His production has been remarkably consistent regardless of his linemates. The former Jr. King, LA Hockey Club, California Titan and California Wave player has put up 22, 24 and 27 points, respectively, in his first three college seasons.
“My dad (John) was on me about the mental part of the game, thinking quickly, when I was growing up,” Newell said. “You can get a feel for guys pretty quickly usually. It helps that our team has such good chemistry.”
A couple of other abilities have helped Newell excel.
“He’s one of the better skaters in our league,” Gibbons said. “And he’s a puck stealer. He’s got such a quick stick that he can separate the puck from guys.
“And he is the type of guy that can really bring it when it counts. He has to be our leading scorer in the playoffs.”
It doesn’t always go noticed by those outside the program, but those around him realize it.
“He’s a guy who flies under the radar a bit, and he gets lost in the shuffle at times, but he deserves a lot more credit than he gets,” Jackson said. “I hope he gets 50 points, 70 points this season. He’s fun to watch.”
Jackson and Newell entered their senior season with a renewed sense of focus, and just as their personalities are different, so, too, is how this purpose is manifest.
For Jackson, a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament in March (as the No. 1 seed, to Air Force, the No. 16 seed) and coach Bob Motzko’s departure for Minnesota were tough pills to swallow.
“I created a big chip on my shoulder,” Jackson said. “I was upset with the loss and I was upset Motzko went to the Gophers. We talked through it.”
Those disappointments could have greased the skids for Jackson to sign a pro contract. After all, he had attended prospect camps with the San Jose Sharks in 2015-16 and with Montreal in 2017. But that was not the case.
“It was an easy decision to come back,” he said. “At St. Cloud, we’ve won every trophy except the one that matters.”
That’s on Newell’s mind as well.
“Our senior class has tried to take hold of the team since we were sophomores,” he said. “We have been really focused on the ice.”
It’s apparent to the coaching staff, which includes Gibbons, a holdover from Motzko’s staff, and new head coach Brett Larson and assistant Nick Oliver.
“I think they’re as excited as they’ve ever been for a season,” Gibbons said. “When you’re a freshman, four years can seem like forever. Now they see this is their last season. Their focus is on the team and they’re driven to have a memorable season.
For all of their on-ice successes, complementary playing styles and familiarity, it’s interesting that the Huskies have virtually never deployed Jackson and Newell together in the past three seasons.
“It’s a weird thing, in practice our chemistry is great,” Newell said. “I definitely wish there were more opportunities over the years. Hopefully, that happens this year.”
Added Jackson: “Our games definitely complement each other. Could you put in a word with our coaches?”
Consider it done. Gibbons said the duo probably would thrive together for a few reasons.
“They’ve shown they can play well with a variety of players,” said Gibbons. “Another factor is they like playing together. That makes a difference.”
That’s also why Jackson and Newell, from opposite ends of California, have a chance to be difference makers for what is projected to be one of the top teams in college hockey this season.
Photos/St. Cloud State Athletic Communications
— Chris Bayee
(Nov. 7, 2018)