By Mason Lyttle
JANESVILLE, WI – In partnership with Best Events and Whiton House, the Janesville Jets held their annual Player Awards Banquet on Wednesday night at the historic Armory in downtown Janesville. Brad Winchester, a 390-game NHL veteran and former Wisconsin Badger, served as the evening’s keynote speaker. More than 130 season ticket members, sponsors, billets, and fans attended the event.
To close the festivities, the Jets named the winners of eight individual player awards, six of which were voted on by the players. Fifth-year head coach and general manager Joe Dibble announced the recipients.
Community Service Award – Cole Paskus
2016: Alex Smith
The Jets, winners of Forward Janesville’s 2013 Community Improvement Award, acknowledge and respect their responsibility to support the community that supports them. To that end, the Jets devote about 2,000 total hours per season to community service projects, events, and school appearances. Regular community events include elementary school visits, the Toys for Tots project, the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, the Bert Blain Memorial Heart Walk, and Janesville Youth Hockey practices and tryout camps. Cole Paskus, who is finishing his second year in Janesville, models the Jets’ devotion to community not only in the quantity he gives, but in the effort and enthusiasm with which he leads Jets appearances. A former camp counselor, Paskus easily and eagerly finds connections with children in school visits, and is consistently outgoing, personable, and helpful at appearances.
Hardest Worker Award – Jack Gates
2016: No winner
The Jets’ annual “Ironman” Award, last season earned by Cullen Munson, took on a slightly different appearance this year. Coach Dibble and assistant coach Kyle Forte alone decided this award, presented to Jack Gates. The diminutive winger from southern California has excelled in his second season with the Jets and continues to model a championship work ethic. Gates has the straight-line speed to break past aggressive power plays and generate shorthanded chances, but also leads by example in his sacrifice and willingness to lay down and block shots.
Unsung Hero Award – Cullen Munson
2016: No winner
Another new award, and another award voted on solely by the coaches, went to third-year center Cullen Munson. The Minnesota native has put together a point-per-game season, and despite not wearing a letter on his jersey, leads an experienced team by example.
Most Improved Player – Joseph Abate & Colin Felix
2016: Cole Paskus
Abate and Felix each took shares of the Most Improved Player Award with a split vote. Each player boasts USHL skating and skills, and have blossomed into dependable, every-night guys on this Jets team. Felix, a rookie defenseman committed to UMass, has seen more defensive and offensive responsibility added to his plate as the season has progressed, and as a ’99 blueliner still has plenty of progression ahead of him. Abate, a winger committed to Wisconsin, showcased a particular step forward in a 16-game stretch from January 12th through March 11th, in which he appeared on the scoresheet for 14 games and registered 21 points.
Offensive Player of the Year – Michael Maloney
2016: Adam Winborg (Michigan)
Much as he has all season, the Brown commit leads the Jets in scoring (25-30–55) with three games to play, and has paced the NAHL in power play goals from the start. Maloney came roaring out the gate with 12 goals in his first 17 games, and has been a huge factor for the Jets’ 2nd-ranked man advantage unit. A skilled center with excellent vision, Maloney has routinely and surgically found gaps in opposing defenses, and will challenge Zach Lavalle’s 2014-15 franchise record of points in a single season (61).
Defensive Player of the Year – Lordanthony Grissom
2016: Lordanthony Grissom
Grissom did it again. The 6’4″ Detroit native has been a towering and intimidating force in all of his three years in the NAHL. Beyond his size and physicality, Grissom has also exhibited great defensive positioning, decisions, and habits. He has led the Jets’ defensive corps in clearing pucks and opposing players from his goal crease, and is rarely beaten on walls and in corners. Grissom, who boasts a +26 mark on the season, excells in the short, quick decisions a modern defenseman has to make with his pucks.
Rookie of the Year – Jake Barczewski
2016: Jack LaFontaine (Michigan)
For the third straight season, the Jets’ Rookie of the Year was earned by their goaltender. Barczewski, a late addition to the Jets’ training camp roster, stepped into a “1a/1b” rotation with 6’4″ Harvard commit Derek Schaedig, and has simply dominated opposing forwards. Barczewski’s .930 save percentage trails only Shreveport’s John Roberts. In a stretch from November 26th to March 17th, Barczewski appeared in 17 games without registering a loss, backstopping the Jets to a 16-0-0-0 record and a .933 save percentage. Tending the net for the best offensive team in franchise history seems like an easy task, but Barczewski all season has performed above and beyond expectations, stealing wins and closing must-win games.
Most Valuable Player – Lordanthony Grissom
2016: Adam Winborg (Michigan)
A model of consistency, dedication, and commitment to his teammates, Grissom earned MVP honors from his teammates. His win bucks convention, which almost always sees a team’s leading scorer or number one goaltender take the title. This Jets team features three 50-point players (with two points, Paskus can make this number four, and without a wrist injury to Adrian Holesinsky, it likely would have been five), and two starting-caliber goaltenders. With two hands’ worth of worthy candidates, Grissom, the alternate captain, suited up and battled through a chunk of this season with a broken wrist. Junior hockey coaches know how hard it is to always get 100% from an aging-out player without an NCAA commitment in the season’s final weeks. Understandably, that can be a torturous and emotionally-testing time for a player, but Grissom, like his fellow ’96 teammates, has put his teammates first. His teammates recognized that effort Wednesday by naming him the Jets’ eighth MVP.