By Rob Brent | March 13, 2019 | 3:30pm
“Inside the Jets” is a weekly blog where we will provide you, the fan, with a deeper look at the Janesville Jets, and the league at large. Join us every Wednesday as we get you closer to the team than ever before with more in depth coverage of a different topic every week.
The Midwest division of the NAHL is comprised of six teams, four of which are headquartered in the Great Lakes States of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. The other two clubs are located in Kenai River and Fairbanks, Alaska. It’s curious that these two teams would represent a division of teams anchored in the Midwest, as they are geographically much closer to the Pacific Northwest and Central cities that serve as the home of the NAHL Central Division teams. This leads many to wonder, why are the Alaska teams in the Midwest division at all? Furthermore, how does scheduling work? What is a trip to Alaska like?
The first question is the easiest to answer. The Alaska clubs are placed in the Midwest division because of all the divisions in the NAHL, the Midwest is the one where the teams are closest together. This arrangement allows the teams to conveniently make long trips where the Alaska teams are stationed in the Continental United States for weeks at a time, and vice versa.
How all of this works is a much more complicated answer though. Hockey players need places to eat, sleep, practice, work out, spend leisure time, and all other conveniences of day to day life. The truth is that this web of logistical issues has many different answers, depending on what viewpoint you look from.
The Janesville Jets are currently in the midst of a two-week expedition to the 49th State as they have already completed a weekend set with Kenai River, and are preparing for a three-game series with the division leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs. We caught up with a few members of the team who each represent a different perspective on leaving their homes in Janesville for a couple of weeks to experience playing in Alaska.
Brendon Jones is a new comer to this experience in many ways. The forward from Pembroke Massachusetts is only a short time into his Janesville Jets career as he was acquired a short time ago from the Lone Star Brahmas of the South Division. Because of his short tenure with the Jets, one may expect that embarking on a journey of this magnitude would be a daunting task. Jones is taking a different approach though, as he views this as an opportunity to bond with his relatively new team.
“I’m not really too concerned with the travel.” Jones says, “If anything it allows me to get a chance to be with the guys, and bond as a team.”
Jones remains unphased by the prospect of the long flights. For good reason too, as the forward explained this is not the longest he’s travelled for a game. “It’s a bit different, because we’ll actually be staying for about two weeks, but I’ve played in tournaments in Europe before. I don’t think it will be too different.” This experience makes Brendon feel confident in his ability to stay focused on the business the Jets need to take care of on this crucial trip where the Jets can clinch a place in the divisional playoffs.
“It’s really important that we just zone in at the rink, focus on our game, and play well.”
Jack Vincent is a leader on the Janesville Jets both on and off the ice. Vincent leads the club in points with 13 goals (which is tied for the team lead with fellow veteran Matt Hanewall), and 18 assists. He also wears an A on his sweater that denotes “alternate captain”. As such, he is expected to be a model for the teams’ younger players as part of the Jets’ leadership group. All of this is displayed when he discusses the currently in progress Alaska road swing. He carefully picks his words, trying to express both how fun the trip can be, as well as how important it is to stay focused.
“It’s a lot of fun being there. Bonding experiences with the team. We really come together on these trips.” Vincent explains, echoing the sentiments of Brendon Jones before going into how important it is to focus on the details to be successful during these games.
“The best way to deal with these trips is being consistent. We’re used to road trips, and it’s important to just think of this as it’s the same thing, just longer. Same stuff, longer trip” Vincent says in reference to the finer points of a road trip such as packing clothes, entertainment, and any other articles that are required for away games. This leads the Madison Wisconsin born forward to go into further detail about some of the challenges the team faces.
“The hardest part is the time difference really. Your body gets used to playing at a certain time. The start of games can be tough because we’re not used to getting our legs going at 10:30pm.” He further explains that “it usually feels like by the time we’ve adjusted, it’s time to pack up and go home. But at the same time, it’s just another obstacle to deal with. There can’t be excuses on these trips.”
Head Coach Corey Leivermann is tasked with making sure the Jets have the best chance to succeed in the preparation for the annual road trips. There may be no better man better for this job, as Leivermann is an experienced participant in trips to Alaska. Long before taking the helm of the Janesville Jets, Leivermann played college hockey at University of Minnesota-State at Mankato. Mankato is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference which has two members in Alaska. Coach Lievermann hopes to share his experience both as a coach and a player to make this experience easier for the team.
“Preparation is definitely difficult. Practice, games, meals, everything is at a later time than the guys are used to. You don’t think being in a different bed and a different rink for practice is going to be such a big deal, but it’s tough.”
But the head coach believes it is also important to take in the experience. “For a lot of the team, this will be the first time they’re in Alaska which is an opportunity not everyone gets to have. Some of the veterans have been before and just want to focus on games, so it can be hard to get everyone on the same schedule to go do things. Take advantage of being so far away in that kind of environment. It’s a unique experience they’ll always remember, so they have to take it in.”
In the first half of the trip, the Jets split a two-game series with the Kenai River Brown Bears that saw the Jets take the first game 1-0 and fall in the second contest 4-1 (though the final 2 Brown Bear goals were scored on an empty net).
This brings their record in Alaska this season to 4 wins and 2 losses. In the previous trip to Alaska, held in October, the Jets split with Fairbanks before sweeping Kenai River. Despite the time difference, difficulties with preparation, and the inconvenience of travel, the Jets have played well in Alaska. They will look to continue that pattern of play as the trip wraps up.
The last leg of the tour will be played this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Fairbanks Alaska. The contests can be watched with a subscription on HockeyTV, or you can follow along with our social media for live coverage.