JANESVILLE, WI – Third-year forward Brenden MacLaren will lead the Janesville Jets as captain in their tenth season of NAHL play, head coach and general manager Gary Shuchuk announced Monday night.
“As a coaching staff we wanted to sort of stay back a little and see who emerged as leaders,” said Shuchuk of the process. “It became pretty obvious that Brenden MacLaren is the captain of this team.”
Shuchuk also said the coaching staff expects leadership to also come from some veterans not wearing letters.
“Remember Carter Ekberg last year was basically another assistant captain for us, without the letter,” said Shuchuk. “He was vocal in the locker room and on the ice. Everyone respected him. Just because he didn’t have a letter didn’t mean he wasn’t as much a captain as Alec Semandel or Jakov Novak. I expect leaders to be leaders with or without the letter. Guys who know our systems and know what it means to be a Jet need to help us hold everyone accountable.”
Nieto’s selection as an alternate bucks hockey tradition, which rarely if ever sees goaltenders assigned an official captain’s position. Though Nieto won’t wear the alternate’s “A” on his sweaters this season, his was an obvious nomination to the leadership group because of the respect he earns from his peers, said Shuchuk.
Below we take a quick look at the captain and his alternates for the 2018-19 season.
MacLaren, an age-out center from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, took a massive step forward last season in his second year of junior hockey. Despite missing more than a quarter of the season to multiple injuries, he tallied a 15-15—30 campaign and cut his penalty minutes significantly, from 30 in 29 games to 26 in 43, while keeping the physicality his game has always featured. Last weekend saw a teaser of his production to come when MacLaren scored the Jets’ first goal of the 10th Anniversary Season.
In February, just two weeks before the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, MacLaren announced his NCAA Division I commitment to Ferris State University of the WCHA, a fit Shuchuk called perfect. MacLaren’s combination of skill and grit made him an obvious recruit for Bob Daniels’ Bulldogs, and now an obvious choice for the Jets’ captaincy.
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“I’m honored to be the Janesville Jets’ captain. It really means a lot. I’m excited to lead this team on and off the ice. I think we have a really good group of guys. I’ve had great leaders my first two seasons with the Jets, so I know what it takes to be a great captain. I’ll have to be the person my teammates come to if they need help or have any issues with anything. Also, it’s important to influence the rookies and younger guys in all the right ways on and off the ice. I was captain of the Soo Indians, my AAA team before I came to the Jets, so I do have some experience, but it’s great to have the help from the assistant captains. Jack Vincent, Garrett Nieto, and Matt Doyle are great guys and will lead by example. I know we’re all excited to get things going this year.”
“Mac’s going to be a great leader. He’ll lead by example. On the ice. I sort of observed him during training camp and he works well with younger guys and older guys, showing them how to act and what had to be done. He needs to be one of those leaders whose play dictates what he does. He has to have a little more control since we’ll need him on the ice but it’ll be good for his development.” — Gary Shuchuk
Madison native Jack Vincent was on the Jets’ radar early in his hockey career, playing all over the traditional pipeline map. He developed with the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals program while playing for his hometown Waunakee High, and fit in a U16 season with the Chicago Mission his junior year. He played an affiliate game with the Jets in 2015-16, then made the full-time jump the following season after a few games at Belle Tire’s U18 program. In 2016-17 he was traded to Kenai River, where he really blossomed as a production player for the Brown Bears. The center began last season with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials before finding his way back to Janesville in January.
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“It’s an honor to be recognized as a leader by my peers, especially for such a prestigious organization as the Janesville Jets. I’m excited for what this group can do. I think we’re really going to make some noise around the league this year.”
“Jack is a skilled guy, and this should be a great confidence booster for him. This will help him build confidence on the ice and hopefully that will translate to a bit more vocal leadership in the locker room. He’s put in a leadership role and you know you have to be more aware what you do on and off the ice. Having a skilled guy like Jack be vocal in the locker room carries a lot of weight, and that’ll help us out with a young team.” — Gary Shuchuk
Doyle is not just the only Jets captain not aging out the season. In fact, the 2000-born defenseman has two more full seasons of eligibility after this one, in which he’ll wear an “A” on his jersey and lead the Jets’ blueliners. Mature beyond his age, Doyle’s selection as an alternate is a good indication of success to come for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres product.
The Jets spent an 8th round pick on Doyle in 2017’s NAHL Draft, and the New Yorker far from disappointed. His 49 games last season ranked fourth among Janesville defensemen, and his +13 mark ranked sixth among all Jets skaters.
“I try to lead by working hard every day and pushing my teammates to get better, because we all have the same end goals, and it’s best if we push each other to get there. It’s the captains’ job to make sure all of the guys are united, to make sure they become closer on and off the ice, and are working hard to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
“From the ‘D’ standpoint, he’s a little quieter but leads by example. Of course there are older defensemen who aren’t wearing a letter, but Matt’s sort of like Brenden. He will lead by example but I expect him to say his piece when those times come. He’s naturally a calming kid who plays very calm, and I think he could lead with that control. Older guys respect that. As a group, I like these guys we have as the assistants because they play hard and lead by example, but now it’s time to grow more of a vocal aspect on and off the ice.” — Gary Shuchuk
Though unorthodox, the Jets’ goaltender’s role as an alternate captain was obvious from the start. Since arriving in Janesville last season, Nieto has quickly become a leader among the team, but especially among the fans. The netminder made himself actively available for offseason community service opportunities this summer while living in the Madison area and training with Jets goaltending coach Larry Clemens. Nieto takes every chance he can to interact with season ticket members young and old.
Nieto came to the Jets after the early part of his career was mostly spent with the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild (formerly of the NAHL), where he played 32 games over two seasons and was named to the league All-Rookie team in 2015-16. Stops in NAHL Springfield and EHL Vermont led him to Janesville.
On the ice, his first full NAHL season was a huge success. His .929 save percentage ranked third among qualified goaltenders last season, and the Californian capped his year with a Division I commitment to Union in April.
“It’s obviously a huge honor to be chosen as an assistant captain for the team. It shows me that the guys trust me and respect me. I planned on being a leader with or without the letter, but this is a huge stepping stone for me to get myself and the team to the next level. I’m excited for what’s to come this season.”
“Garrett has always been leader. I’ve never been a big believer in putting a letter on goalie, but there’s so much respect in the locker room for him because of who he is and how he plays. That, to me, is huge. He’s not afraid to speak up and that’s key. Guys respect him. Even with the older guys last year, when he spoke they listened. Garrett means business. We have lots of young guys who need guidance on and off the ice, whether it’s how to be junior player or whats expected of them in Janesville. Garrett helps with that tremendously. He’s one of our great leaders in the community and has never balked at anything he’s asked to do.” — Gary Shuchuk
With captains now announced, the Jets turn their attention to the 2018 NAHL Showcase Tournament, beginning Wednesday in Blaine, Minnesota, at the Schwan Super Rink. All 24 NAHL teams will play regular-season games at the Showcase, which is one of hockey’s most prominent and popular events of the entire season.
The Jets will play the Lone Star Brahmas, the Shreveport Mudbugs, the Aberdeen Wings, and the Bismarck Bobcats this week in Blaine.