As the Jets prepare to eliminate the Fairbanks Ice Dogs this weekend at the Janesville Ice Arena, we caught up briefly with Jets head coach and general manager Gary Shuchuk about how the team jumped out in front and what they need to do to close this series.
janesvillejets.com: How would you describe this team’s preparedness in last weekend’s series?
Gary Shuchuk: Leading up to last weekend, we had a strong series against Springfield that got us into playoff mode. We had a good week of practices and the boys were getting antsy to get on the road to Fairbanks.
JJ: Obviously there’s still work to be done, but where do you put the bulk of the credit for the team holding the series lead?
GS: The team stayed together and kept the course and kept playing our way like we have all year. They pulled together and wanted to play for each other, win or lose, as long as they left everything on the ice.
JJ: In sports, you sometimes see players that turn that corner and play out of their mind for a postseason run. How happy are you to see Sam Renlund take the step he’s taken in the scond half of this year, and how does it feel to see it continue in the playoffs?
GS: Sam has been playing some great hockey since the Top Prospects games, and it has been a credit to him buying into becoming a full 200-foot player and taking care of our defensive zone first, knowing that then he would get his opportunity offensively. It’s also a credit to his linemates as well. Benji [Eckerle] and Jakov [Novak] have been working well together and they have been feeding off each other’s hard work on the ice. If they continue to work hard together, they will get rewarded on the score sheet, and that’s what we need to continue to happen.
JJ: What will it take for this team to close this out Friday?
GS: It’s going to be a very tough game, both physically and mentally. Fairbanks is a very good and seasoned hockey team. They’re not going to come to Janesville and just roll over and die. They will play as hard as they did up in Fairbanks and be an even more desperate team. We’re going to have to match or better their intensity and play a complete game from all four lines and all six ‘D.’ We need to play like it’s an elimination game for us, and play a full 60-minute game.
JJ: What would you say to people in Janesville thinking about coming to this weekend’s games?
GS: Come down and watch two of the top teams in the NAHL play hockey. We’ll need your energy in the building like Fairbanks had this past weekend. It’s going to be an intense game with both teams leaving everything out on the ice. Playoff hockey is the best entertainment around.