BLAINE, MN — The Janesville Jets overcame an early goal against Saturday afternoon and completed a comeback for a 2-1 overtime victory over the St. Cloud Blizzard in their 2019 NAHL Showcase finale.
“Tonight overall the message was about playing a team game,” said head coach Corey Leivermann. “We’ve lost five guys now to injuries throughout the Showcase, and some higher end guys too, but obviously it’s no excuse. Guys gotta step up. Today we told the room we needed everything. We needed four lines, seven defensemen and one goalie to play for each other in front of the guys in the stands.”
Forward Nick Nardella, who had the Jets’ only goal in Friday’s 4-1 loss to Maryland, played overtime hero for Janesville.
“I really wanted to get that one for the guys,” said Nardella, a ’99 Michigan Tech commit. “Not so much for me. Anytime you get a win like that it’s huge for our team. Now we just have to keep building on this young group with the routine: work hard and compete. We’re not the biggest team and we’re not the oldest but we will be the hardest-working team.”
Janesville dressed seven 2002-born players Saturday, including starting goaltender Grant Riley. Leivermann knows that with so much youth it’s even more important for veterans like Nardella to lead.
“Nick’s really elevated his game the last couple of days here,” Leivermann said. “Sometimes the goals or points aren’t always there for him, but his effort has been, his leadership has been. That’s what you wanna see from a ’99, someone who’ll say ‘get on my back. Hop on and I’ll lead us to the promised land.'”
Saturday’s win gives Janesville a 3-1 record at the 2019 NAHL Showcase, the third time in four years the Jets have finished one win shy of perfect.
“Like every team here, we wanted to go 4-0,” Leivermann said. “But 3-1 is a very good record and we’re happy with the results this weekend. It’s a great one to end on. Team feels good coming out of here on an overtime winner.”
St. Cloud converted on the game’s first scoring chance when Tom Gazich (2:13 1st) tapped in a backdoor rebound off a point shot from Chandler Kujawa. Each power play stretched its legs but couldn’t click on their first opportunities.
Late in the second period, the Jets finally broke the seal on Blizzard goalie Britt League. Right off an attacking zone faceoff, 2000-born forward Nick Brown (16:57 2nd) finished a set play for his second goal in three games.
A pair of Grade A scoring chances for the Jets came late in the third, but an Isaac Novak shot missed the net by an inch, and a 2-on-1 chance created by Max Itagaki gave Luke Wheeler a golden look, but the night’s best save by League kept the game tied at 1-1.
Right off of the opening draw of overtime, Nick Nardella (0:08 OT) followed his shot and jammed home his own rebound, winning the game for Janesville.
Goaltender Grant Riley preserved the win for Janesville, turning aside 17 of 18 St. Cloud shots. With a shutout win on Thursday, the rookie goalie’s Showcase performance clocked in at 33/34 for a .971 save percentage.
Next for the Jets is a home series with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a premier NAHL rivalry at the top of the Midwest Division. The Jets and the Ice Dogs have met in each of the last three postseasons, and play their entire 10-game regular season series in the Jets’ first 31 contests of the 2019-20 season.
“We gotta get healthy and gotta get fresh bodies,” Leivermann said. “We’ll make some tough decisions and make sure we dial in our game, dial in our systems, and dial in our effort. That’s a team that comes at you in waves. They play four lines, six defensemen, and always have great goaltending. They never play us easy and we gotta be prepared.”