It sounds inconceivable really — a Jackson Hallum that couldn’t skate. And yet like everyone else, he had to start somewhere before becoming one of the Michigan hockey team’s best skaters.
That didn’t make his first strides any prettier.
“Jackson didn’t know how to skate at all,” his father, Rob Hallum, told The Daily. “And this friend of mine would take Jackson with his kid, and he’d say, ‘Oh yeah Jackson, you know, he’d just sit there and wait until somebody got close enough to him and then he’d tackle them.’ ”
But those humble beginnings became the roots from which his skating grew. Now, that ability has come a long way as both coaches and teammates consistently claim Jackson is the fastest player they’ve ever seen in person.
Growing up in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan, Jackson had plenty of opportunities to learn how to skate. Whether he shoveled snow off a backyard lake with his brother, roller-bladed in the garage or went to local rinks in what was essentially Minnesotan daycare, Jackson had all the ice in the world to transform into the elegant skater he is now.
Trace his family tree and you might think it all happened through genetics. His mom, Sheila Hallum, was named Drake University’s female athlete of the decade for her career as an All-American runner in the 1990s. His brother Josh also sprinted at Missouri S&T. Rob played Division-I basketball at Iowa before an offseason knee injury all but ended his career. Oh yeah, and his grandpa, Earl Hallum, played linebacker and earned three All-American nods as a diver for Oklahoma on a team with future Michigan legend Dick Kimball.
So how exactly did Jackson become such an elite skater? No one seems to know. But through spending hours on the ice with his friends and playing hockey growing up, something just clicked. By the time he got older, the kid who used to crash into other skaters started turning laps around them.
“I wish that’s one thing I could take credit for in his development,” said Trent Eigner, Jackson’s former high school coach at St. Thomas Academy. “But he’s just as gifted a skater as I’ve ever coached in 20 years. … He’s genetically wired to be fast.”
But those genetics can only take an athlete so far. Sure, it helps that seemingly everyone in Jackson’s family is a speedster, but it takes a certain disposition to turn those gifts into even greater results. Lucky for him, he’s got that too.
Some of that, funny enough, came from Jackson’s family, too. After his career closed at Oklahoma, Earl served in the Air Force, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel across 20 years of service. Combine that dedication with the work ethic of a family of D-I athletes, and it’s safe to say hard work was a rule in the Hallum household.
“It’s kind of just been in the family to just play sports and have fun with it,” Josh Hallum told The Daily. “But with that comes a level of expectations too, because you can kind of tell when people have a knack for being able to move well, and he’s always had that so it kind of carries over to the ice as well.”
Jackson met those expectations with flying colors, playing everything from lacrosse to soccer and even fishing growing up. According to Josh, Jackson scored nine goals in his first mini-mites hockey game — to be fair, those kids could barely skate. But then again, anyone can barely skate compared to what Jackson could do out there, even at such a young age.
“I remember when he was little, we were in Lake Placid for this tournament and he played with like fourth graders or something because there wasn’t a team for him,” Sheila said. “He was probably 7 or 6 — I mean he was a little guy — and they called him mini mite. And he would just take that puck and just tear up and down the ice, stickhandle through everyone. So he just always was like that.”
That athleticism and work ethic especially showed in high school, when he played for St. Thomas Academy. A private, Catholic, all-boys military school in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, the school’s 88-acre campus houses students who excel in both academics and sports. Everything’s a competition there, and that environment polished the discipline Jackson’s family had already taught him.
Earning ranks through his leadership in both athletics and academics, Jackson made the varsity hockey team his freshman year and became a leader in his class. By senior year, he was named one of the Cadets’ four captains, something earned through sweat in early morning workouts and film studies.
Often, that development regimen focused on advancing the tools around his skating.
“90% of our conversations opened with, ‘You’re always going to be the fastest kid at the rink,’ ” Eigner said. “‘So let’s just delete that from the conversation because there’s no reason to talk about that. So let’s talk about the other areas of the game.’ ”
Playing for Eigner — who also coached senior defenseman Keaton Pehrson at Lakeville North — and assistant coach Niko Kapetanovic, that footspeed immediately impressed. Jackson paired well with the quickness of linemate and friend Jared Wright — an L.A. Kings draft pick now in his freshman year at Denver. Much like Jackson’s performance alongside speedy freshman forward Frank Nazar III at Michigan this season, the pair of Wright and Jackson made for a potent duo.
But that one trait didn’t make Jackson a superstar. And even though he blew past every skater he faced in the hockey heartland of Minnesota, Jackson still wasn’t satisfied.
“I would always tell him Connor McDavid is the best skater in the NHL, you think he’s working on ice skating every day?” Kapetanovic said. “Yes, because he wants to be the best skater in the NHL, or the most complete skater.”
And like McDavid, Jackson poured his heart into his training. After not so much as a mention on the 2020 NHL Central Scouting list, Jackson heard the Vegas Golden Knights call his name in the third round of the 2020 Draft while he headed to his economics class. Even amid all that buzz, he stayed loyal to St. Thomas and went back for one last run.
“I also went to a pretty special high school that I really wanted to stay back and play for them and that’s kind of why,” Jackson said. “But no coach ever told me that we want you to stay back. It was kind of a choice on my own to stay my senior year.”
But after that final ride with St. Thomas — a season that ended with a first-round Minnesota State Tournament exit against eventual champion Eden Prairie — Jackson graduated to the USHL junior league. Continuing his development by watching film and training his decision making, he paired his quick skating with even better tools to use it appropriately: positioning, routing, puck protection. Because being the fastest skater on the ice doesn’t matter if you can’t find situations to use it.
“When you’re as gifted a skater as he is, the temptation is to want to have the puck on your stick all the time,” Eigner said. “And you actually become easier to defend that way. And I think he learned as he began to play with some better players that could distribute the puck to him … his willingness to give up the puck and use his speed to get to areas where he could get it back.”
All that prepared him to make the jump to college hockey at Michigan, but he also had time for fun. In a summer league, Jackson played bandy, a sport similar to hockey that uses a specialized stick to score a ball. On a team called Spanky’s United — and alongside former Minnesota Golden Gophers captain Sammy Walker — Jackson learned to better use his speed in wide open space against a collection of ex-Division-I opponents.
“I think that’s what’s cool about the league is it just works on your skating pretty well,” Walker told The Daily. “I mean, there’s no hitting and it’s 4-on-4 so there’s just a ton of skating and he can really show off that speed which is fun to watch.”
The group excelled, reaching the league title game against the three-peat champion Sparrows. To make things harder, Spanky’s United lost a few skaters to summer workouts as the hockey offseason neared its end. None of that mattered — Walker and Jackson earned co-MVP honors by carrying their team to a championship victory. As both skaters leaned on their burning speed, few could catch them.
But soon, it was time for Jackson to pack his bags and head to Ann Arbor. Of course, his reputation preceded him. Kapetanovic noted that there’s not a player or coach in Minnesota that doesn’t know Jackson is among the fastest skaters out there.
After catching wind of that hype, the Wolverines got curious. So, they set up a race during summer training, pitting him against sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes, regarded as one of the best skaters in the country. Reports of the race’s outcome vary — some say Jackson won, others don’t remember — but at the very least, he certainly gave Hughes a run for his money.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, the way he blows by guys,” sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich said — high praise considering he’s shared the ice with skaters like Matty Beniers and Logan Cooley. “Even in the gym he’s one of those guys that jumps higher than everyone by a mile. So he’s definitely a freak in the gym for sure. … I thought I was fast until I saw him.”
That’s a common refrain from anyone who’s seen him skate. Even Michigan coach Brandon Naurato, who’s worked with a who’s-who of NHL stars, holds back little praise.
“His skating is so elite,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “Like, he might be one of the fastest guys in the NHL when he winds it up.”
Of course, you’d never hear Jackson say that himself. With the same maturity that carried his development forward, he’s the kind of player that deflects praise to his teammates, always hinting that there’s someone better out there — on some level, NHL or other — that he’s trying to reach.
But much like the way he bought into his training, going from tackling kids on the ice to being the quickest player among them, his work ethic can take him to the same level as those elite players.
Combined with his speed, there’s no reason to believe he can’t catch up.