By Mason Lyttle
JANESVILLE, WI – The Janesville Jets are headed to the Roberston Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season.
With a second period short-handed goal from Cole Paskus and a 16-save shutout from Jack LaFontaine, the Jets defeated their oldest rivals, the Springfield Jr. Blues, on Saturday, and clinched a berth in the 2016 Robertson Cup Playoffs.
Jets head coach and general manager Joe Dibble is still focused on making use of his five remaining regular season games.
“We definitely want home ice advantage,” said Dibble, who is finishing his fourth year in Janesville. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy we secured the spot, but in Janesville, with this culture we’ve established, making the playoffs is an expectation. Getting into second place is our next mission.”
It seems quite possible. With 70 points, Janesville sits just two points behind the Minnesota Wilderness’ 72, with two games in hand on the team that ousted Janesville in last year’s tournament. Total wins would break a tie, and in the event of an even draw in that column, Janesville, with an 8-2-2 regular season record versus Minnesota, holds the tiebreaker.
Securing second place means hosting the first two games of the best-of-five Midwest Division Semi-Finals series, with a potential fifth game in Janesville. Then, depending on seeding, the Jets would either surrender home ice advantage to the first-ranked Fairbanks Ice Dogs, or host either Springfield or the Coulee Region Chill. The Robertson Cup Semi-Finals and Finals, this year titled as the Robertson Cup Final Four, will take place in Edina, Minnesota. The Semi-Finals series are best-of-three, and the winners will play a one-game playoff to determine the Robertson Cup Champion.
Following a successful weekend, Janesville has now won five of its last seven games, and nine of its last 12. The Jets have earned at least one point in 12 of its last 16 games played. If there’s one hockey truism in spring, it’s to be aware of who’s heating up at the right time.
Last year’s record-setting Jets lost just once in their final 24 games, a mark that’s genuinely difficult to grasp. But Dibble and captain Alex Smith are beginning to see similarities between the two teams.
“They’re definitely similar,” said Smith of last year’s and this year’s Jets. “I think we have a full and deep team. We have skilled forwards and grinding forwards. We have great defensemen. The goaltending is outstanding with [Blake] Weyrick and Jack [LaFontaine]. I definitely think this team can go all the way.”
Dibble identified intangible parallels between the two squads.
“It’s a similar team to last year when you look at the human beings that are in that room,” said last year’s NAHL General Manager of the Year. “That’s the special part. The type of character we have in that room, the group that we have, the bond they have with one another, that’s what makes it special. These guys aren’t willing to give up on one another. They’re going to battle for one another until that last horn goes off.”
Last season’s band of brothers breezed through the North Division Playoffs, losing just one game between the two series, before getting stopped cold in their tracks by the visiting Minnesota Wilderness in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals. With a looming first round matchup against the Wilderness, how far does Dibble see these Jets advancing?
“The team can go as far as they want to go,” he said. “Ultimately, we need to do things together. If we get individual, we won’t get to that point. But if we stick together and stick to our game plan, and these guys keep competing for one another like they are, I think this team definitely has the makeup to go the distance.”
The Midwest Division Semi-Finals will open on Friday, April 15. Dibble plans to play that night at home.
Contact the Janesville Jets’ front office at (608) 752-JETS, or go to www.janesvillejets.com for details on ticket information. Stay connected to the Jets through Facebook (/janesvillehockey) and Twitter (@JanesvilleJets1).
— JANESVILLE JETS —