Janesville, WI – Alex Smith has played on some strong hockey teams, even a national champion, but none compare to this year’s Janesville Jets.
The Jets finished the regular season with a road sweep of the Springfield Jr. Blues, hanging a triple-digit number in the points column. Their 49 wins and 100 points over the 2014-2015 campaign are each new records in league history, topping previous marks set by Bozeman (48) and Amarillo (99), respectively.
“This is easily the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” said Smith, who was chosen by his teammates at the start of the season as one of Janesville’s three alternate captains. “I won a national championship with Honeybaked [Ham], but this is the best group I’ve played with. The skill, the goaltending, the defense, this group can win any hockey game we play.”
The impressive goaltending has come from Matt Jurusik, who won the team’s most valuable player award last week. Jurusik finished his first year of junior hockey with more shutouts (seven) than losses (five). Stopping pucks at a league-best 93.9 save percentage, he helped the Jets set another record: their 113 total goals against broke the previous mark of 118 also set by the Amarillo Bulls.
In front of Jurusik, Smith is a pivotal member of a standout defense corps. In his second year with Janesville, he leads all Jets defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 28 assists on 36 points. He also quarterbacks the team’s top power play unit, which clicked on nearly 22% of its opportunities this season.
Versatile, two-way players like Smith are easy to find on coach Joe Dibble’s Jets. Smith is one of eight different players to record 36 or more points this season. Four skaters finished with a plus/minus mark over plus-32. Brandon Schultz, who finished with 28 goals, is perhaps the team’s top penalty-killer. How has a roster with so much individual skill been this focused and selfless?
“Every single guy has bought in to what coach [Dibble] and [captain] Drew Callin have to say,” Smith explained. “Everyone is bought into the team mentality. We all come to work with our hardhats on, just like the people of Janesville.”
The Jets ran away with the North Division, finishing with a 33-point gap. The division title was clinched in February. The league title was clinched with four games still on the calendar, and in the final game of the regular season, records were set. One by one, the Jets crossed items off their to-do list.
“Winning the league was one of our goals at the start of the season,” said Smith. “I don’t think at the start of the year we thought we’d be at 100 points, but as the season progressed, we realized the records were attainable. When they got even closer we wanted it more. We wanted to be able to look back and say, “Hey, we were on that 2014-2015 Janesville Jets team.””
With the regular season now behind them, Smith and the Jets start a new season, complete with its own tasks and challenges. The Michigan Warriors won eight of their last nine games to sneak into the fourth and final North Division playoff seed. Beginning April 10, the Jets will have a chance to turn a corner in a budding playoff rivalry with Michigan, who eliminated Janesville last postseason. For Smith, though, the past is exactly that.
“We’re only focused on this year,” Smith said. “That series is in the past. It’s done and over with. We’re only looking at Michigan this year, not how or what they did last year or the year before that. They’re up next, and there’s still work to be done.”