Trent Eigner has a bar players can clear to determine when they’re an “elite” skater.
It’s when “you can basically do on skates what you can do on your feet,” the St. Thomas Academy coach said.
It’s a bar very few can clear. But Cadets senior forward Jackson Hallum soars over it. He’s majestic on blades.
“In the change of direction and the stops and starts, not only are they done at a high-rate of speed,” Eigner said, “but it’s almost pretty to watch, because it’s so effortless.”
Eigner has coached a number of high-end players in his coaching career, including NHLers such as Ryan Poehling. His staff has worked with plenty of greats, as well.
Yet Hallum is still one of, if not the, “most athletic hockey player we’ve ever coached.”
That skating ability with his speed and fluidity is what helped make Hallum a third-round draft pick of the Las Vegas Knights, why he has helped lift the Cadets into another Class 2A state tournament this week, and why Hallum is the 2021 Pioneer Press East Metro boys hockey player of the year.
“He’s fun to watch in terms of the things he can do. It’s fun,” Eigner said. “If you’re a fan of hockey, and you appreciate great skating — not even great, like, exquisite skating — then that’s fun to watch.”
Hallum thinks his speed came from his mom. You may remember her as Shelia Haugh, a state track champion at Rosemount who went on to earn All-American status at Drake.
“She was definitely the speed in the family,” he said.
His dad, Robert Hallum, played Division I basketball at Iowa. Athleticism is in the genes. Hallum realized at a young age that would be an advantage on the ice.
“I was always working on it and building on my legs, getting a good foundation,” he said. “That’s kind of how I got so fast and learned how to skate so well.”
It wasn’t easy to get in to watch high school hockey games this season given COVID-19 protocols. But those who could got a treat.
“People who did get an opportunity to see him in person, whether it was a text or a comment or whatever,” Eigner said, “they can’t believe the way (number) 15 skates.”
That said, Eigner said that speed is “a gift and a curse.” It’s not like hockey is a 100-yard dash, some kind of race to the finish. You have to make plays for yourself and others on the ice. There were times when Hallum, a gifted stick handler, would probably make an unnecessary move when he could have simply blown past a defender.
But Hallum noted high school defenders know who he is by now. It’s hard to miss a Michigan commit and NHL third-round draftee. They give the forward massive cushions, careful not to get beat. Hallum tries to use those gaps to find his teammates when possible.
Hallum has 17 goals and 24 assists this season for St. Thomas Academy, which will take on top-seeded Eden Prairie at 6 p.m. Wednesday in St. Paul in the Class 2A state quarterfinals.
Yes, he can fly around the ice, but Eigner is used to that. What has impressed the coach, as well as Hallum’s teammates, is the way the senior shifted his game when it mattered most this season.
There was the Cadets’ 6-5 overtime victory over Hill-Murray this season, as well as St. Thomas Academy’s run through the sectional tournament. In both instances, Hallum wasn’t just this hyper-skilled player. He was physical. He was gritty. The forward noted there have been challenges being this targeted player this season.
“Everyone is trying to smack talk you and get under your skin and trip you, all that stuff that comes along with it,” Hallum said. “But it’s not about me, it’s about the team winning, and that’s all that matters right now. Winning will move you on, so that’s all that matters.”
And he’ll do whatever it takes to do it.
“I just feel like it’s kind of a leadership thing. I can say for guys to hit (somebody), but if I’m not doing it, then what kind of leader am I?” Hallum said. “I’m going to try to lead by example and always use my body whenever I can. Being physical is something I need to bring at higher levels, at Michigan and even further on, Vegas. I think when I’m getting shut down or getting shadowed by a team, I like to use my body, because it’s something I can do. I can’t always score goals or always make plays, but I can always use my body and be an impact that way. That’s how I think I use my physical part of my game a lot more now.”
“For him, that might not be the coolest thing, because he’s apt to want the puck on his stick, he’s apt to want to make plays,” Eigner said. “I think it’s some of the other things, for us, that are probably cooler for us to see him round out his game, other than just being the fastest kid on the ice all the time.”
Cam Boche, senior forward, Lakeville South: The focal point of one of the state’s top lines, Boche has 24 goals and 28 assists for the state tournament-bound Cougars.
Luke Levandowski, senior forward, Rosemount: Speedster scored 22 goals for the Irish. Committed to Wisconsin.
Kade Nielsen, senior forward, Burnsville: Finished with 30 goals and 20 assists. Played a role in 70 percent of Blaze’s goals this season.
Joe Palodichuk, senior defenseman, Hill-Murray: Wisconsin commit leads Hill-Murray’s formidable defense, while also putting up nine goals and 24 assists.
Alex Timmons, senior goalie, Gentry Academy: Senior went 11-0 in net this season, stopping 91 percent of shots faced for one of Class A state tournament favorites.