JANESVILLE, WI – The Janesville Jets, proud members of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), are pleased to announce that defenseman Carter Ekberg has committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Air Force Falcons of Atlantic Hockey.
“I’m extremely excited to commit to Air Force,” said Ekberg. “This year has been huge for me, becoming a leader on the team and having more chances to play and make big impacts on every game. It’s had a huge impact on my confidence.”
The western Pennsylvania native has played for the Jets for parts of four seasons. In 84 career NAHL games, all with Janesville, Ekberg (6’1/180) has totaled 32 points.
Ekberg is the first Jets defenseman this season to earn his NCAA commitment.
“This year Carter has taken a huge step and evolved into a complete, two-way guy on the back end,” said assistant coach Corey Leivermann, who works with the team’s defensemen. “As the ‘D’ coach, he’s meant everything to me and to our group. When he’s healthy I lean on him heavily because I know he consistently gives us what we need in all situations. Whether it’s the power play, penalty kill, five-on-five, the first minute of a period, the last minute of a period, overtime, it doesn’t matter. Carter Ekberg is our guy.”
Ekberg joins forwards Kip Hoffmann (Robert Morris) and T.J. Polglaze (Michigan Tech) as 1997-born Jets veterans to earn their commitment this season.
“Kip’s is a great story. He’s been in this league longer than I have, but he, T.J., and I have all been through our growing pains,” said Ekberg. “As a young, developing guy, you sit out games, holding clipboards, battling to earn your spot every day. There are a lot of stories like that in this league with older guys getting commitments at the ends of their junior careers. I’m definitely not the first.”
Unlike Hoffmann, who recently celebrated his 176th career game and became the Jets’ all-time leader in that category, Ekberg’s junior hockey career has given his suitcases and his car, a 2004 Dodge Neon, plenty of wear and tear.
Ekberg is a three-year veteran of the NAPHL, where he played two 16U campaigns with the Pittsburgh Viper Stars (2012-13) and the Esmark Stars (2013-14). In his senior year at Peters Township High, he played his 18U season with Esmark and registered 23 points in 24 games.
Ekberg’s junior career began in March of 2015 with two games as an affiliate player of the Jets. He started the following season with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, suiting up for just two games before joining the Jets again in October. Ekberg played 22 games with the Jets before getting another crack at the USHL with a call from the Youngstown Phantoms in Feburary. He started the 2016-17 campaign with the Jets, and has since grown into a leader.
This season, Ekberg tops Jets blueliners in scoring with four goals and 18 total points, playing most of the season alongside Alec Semandel on the top pair.
Former Jets head coach Joe Dibble, who brought Ekberg to the Jets and coached him for two seats, said he’s seen Ekberg take important strides both mentally and physically.
“Even as a kid coming out of that Esmark Stars program, the first thing you noticed about Carter’s game was his mobility,” said Dibble. “He’s always been an elite skater who plays with his head up and has the skill to make plays, but I was especially impressed with his development this year. Last summer I think he really dedicated himself to becoming a college athlete. He worked on his strength and you see him now stronger on the puck, stronger in the corners, stronger in front of his own net. It’s been great this year as a former coach to watch him live and on HockeyTV. He’s always been a confident skater and playmaker, but now you see that confidence defensively and without the puck. He’s a complete defenseman who’s ready to become a student athlete at the Division I level.”
The Falcons play at the nearly 2,500-seat Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Head coach Frank Serratore has held the reigns since 1997, and last season joined a group of just 22 with his 400th NCAA Division I win.
“The coaching staff was definitely one of the biggest reasons for choosing Air Force,” said Ekberg. “A bunch of them are alumni, or they played D-1, or they played pro, so they know what they’re talking about. They’re all great, knowledgeable people who made me feel super welcome and wanted there, which was important to me. I can’t say enough good things about that staff.”
To Leivermann, it’s an especially great fit for Ekberg as a student and as a person.
“That’s an amazing academic school out there in Colorado,” he said. “That works well for a smart kid like Ekberg. He’ll get good academics, he’ll get to play good hockey, and they do a great job helping their alumni find careers after their playing days, too.”
Air Force recorded five NCAA tournament appearances from 2007 through 2012, missing just once in 2010. Last spring, the Falcons qualified again, breaking a four-year drought. Their offense includes attacking defensemen, said Ekberg, which was a major reason in choosing the school.
“They like to get their ‘D’ involved in the offense,” Ekberg said. “Coach Serratore told me they try to activate them through the zones, which is a good fit for me. I like to take my chances when I see fit, and that’s something they’re big on. It’s a good opportunity for me to be an offensive guy on the back end.”
Former teammates of Ekberg’s will dot the Falcons’ schedule, represented at Bentley (Drew Callin, Jakov Novak), AIC (Chris Dodero), Canisius (Blake Wareham, Blake Weyrick), and Robert Morris (Kip Hoffmann). Ekberg admitted he’s looking forward to matching up against fellow Jets alumni often throughout the busy Atlantic Hockey schedule.
“Yeah, it’ll be really fun to play against Kip and Novak,” he said. “I battle them in practice every day. They’ve made me better in my career, which hopefully I can use against them when we’re not wearing the same jersey.”
For now, though, Hoffmann, Novak, and Ekberg are all future college hockey players wearing the same uniform and focused on the same goal. With his NCAA D-I commitment secured, Ekberg said he feels even more ready for a long playoff run.
“I think we have a great team that’s just hitting its stride now,” he said. “It starts in net where we have two great goaltenders, and that’s huge. We’re built from the net out, and we’re getting better every day.”