Janesville, WI – Championship hockey teams at every level know that when the top line hits a dry spell, your scoring depth either shows up, or you go home.
For Janesville, it’s both.
The Jets returned to Janesville early Sunday morning following a 6-2 victory over the Soo Eagles in game 4 of the North Division Finals, eliminating their toughest rival. The Jets, with the league’s top record, will now host every remaining playoff game this season. The Robertson Cup Semi-Finals are a best-of-three series. Games 1 and 2 are Friday and Saturday night at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“I’m really happy to stay home,” said Nils Rygaard, whose second period goal turned out to be the series winner. “We’re strong here, and have amazing support from our fans, which means a lot. We don’t need to travel anymore, so we don’t need to put any energy into that. We can just be focused on each game.”
The Swedish Rygaard and his countryman Adam Winborg flank center Mitch Fossier on the team’s second line. Against the Soo, the second unit clicked for five goals, four of which came off the stick of Nils Rygaard.
“I feel that I personally have gotten a lot out of my games in this series,” said Rygaard, who won the team’s “Iron Man” award in March. “I have worked the same way as the regular season. I couldn’t have had this success without my teammates and coaches, so a big thank you to them. They always work hard with me.”
The Jets also leaned on their most veteran player to dispose of the Eagles. Dan Kucerovy, who was re-acquired in November from the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, has played in Janesville for parts of three seasons. In the three wins over the Eagles, Kucerovy tallied seven points on three goals and four assists.
“He’s been unbelievable ever since he came here,” said captain Drew Callin of his linemate. “He’s a great guy to have on your line. He always finds the open spot, and you know he’s gonna put himself in a position to score goals.”
Kucerovy’s three-goal spark ignited the third line. Callin also scored three, including the game-winner in Game 2, and Kevin Dineen added three points.
““Kuce” has been working really hard in practice,” added Callin. “It’s really paid off for him in these playoffs.”
Callin said rebounding from a disappointing 4-0 loss in Game 3 was a crucial milestone for these Jets.
“The loss was a good teaching point for us,” he said. “It showed we can’t take a game off at any point.”
“I think we got a good understanding that no game is easy. It punishes us if we do not work as a team. Now we’re a stronger group that will be harder to beat.”
If Rygaard is correct that these record-breaking Jets are even harder to beat than before, it spells bad news for the next opponent. The Minot Minotauros play the Austin Bruins in Game 5 of the Central Division Finals on Monday night. If Minot wins, they’ll visit Janesville on Friday. If Austin wins, the Midwest Division Champion Minnesota Wilderness will fill the Janesville Ice Arena’s visitors’ bench.
“We’re excited to see who we get,” said Callin. “It’ll be a good home series, whether it’s Minot or the Wilderness. We’ll be ready for it.”