JANESVILLE, WI — The Jets have earned their first sweep of the new decade.
A six-point weekend from Charlie Schoen and standout play from both goaltenders, Riley Sims and Grant Riley, helped carry the torch for Janesville.
“It was a rewarding weekend for us,” said head coach Corey Leivermann. “We wanted to keep things pretty simple, give some honest, hard effort and believe in each other. To get a team’s confidence to where it should be, you have to do things the right way.”
The Jets’ goaltending duo combined for 71 saves on 77 shots, good for a .922 save percentage.
“Grant Riley and Riley Sims were both phenomenal in the two first periods,” Leivermann said. “Those could have been two different games if those guys weren’t on their games, but they were. You go into the first intermission tied 1-1 on Saturday, and down 1-0 on Sunday…those could’ve been 2-0 or 3-0. I think we found our game in each night’s second period, and carried that effort over into the win.”
SATURDAY — W, 4-3 (OT)
The Jets never led and were outshot by nine, but three assists from Charlie Schoen, excellent goaltending from Riley Sims, and a team-wide, never-say-die effort helped them sneak out a win Saturday night.
Getting things going early for the Wilderness was Bram Scheerer (10:48 1st), who collected a long lob of a breakout pass from Tyler Watkins, gained about a quarter step of defenseman Anthony Szurlej, and made a nice move in tight to beat Riley Sims on the forehand. With only 16 seconds left on the Jets’ first power play, Isaac Novak (18:27 1st) finished a flurry of chances off a nice one-touch pass from Parker Lindauer. Novak’s goal sent the teams to intermission tied on the scoreboard, despite a 15-7 shot advantage for the Wilderness.
Janesville generated more shots in the second period (15-14 Wilderness), and more fantastic goaltending from Sims kept things close, but Minnesota scored the frame’s only goal. Some pretty passing from the Wilderness sliced through the Jets’ defense, culminating in a backdoor tap-in for Kimball Johnson (18:06 2nd).
Janesville tied the game early in the third with a goal from the newest Jet, forward Justin Thompson (4:30 3rd), his second in just five games with his new club. Thompson drove the center lane on a three-on-two, and a pass from Charlie Schoen bounced its way through Justin Engelkes and then to Thompson, who outwaited Isak Johansson. A redirection from Garrett Worth (7:12 3rd) gave Minnesota its third and final lead of the game just a few minutes later. Bounces rewarded the hard work of the Jets’ fourth line for the final equalizer. Captain Carter Hottmann (12:40 3rd) picked up a puck in the skates of Henry Sweeney, won a one-on-one battle along the wall, and put a partially-checked wrist shot on Johansson. The shot appeared to beat Johansson five-hole but stayed out of the net until Johansson kicked it back in himself. The “greasy” goal sent the game to overtime.
In the three-on-three overtime period, Charlie Schoen picked up his third assist of the night when he poked a puck loose high in his defensive zone, and moved quickly through the neutral zone to open up a 2-on-0 with Nick Nardella (1:39 OT). Nardella’s goal was his fifth game-winning goal of the season, and he now trails only Lincoln Hatten (Wikes-Barre/Scranton) and Joey Baez (Lone Star) with six for the league-lead.
Riley Sims (2-2-0-0) stood tall for Janesville in the winning net, making 40 saves on 43 shots. Swedish rookie Isak Johansson (0-0-1-0) lost his NAHL debut with 30 saves.
SUNDAY — W, 5-3
The St. Luke’s Sports & Event Center in Proctor, Minnesota, about 20 minutes east from the Wilderness’ usual home rink in Cloquet, played host to a 5:00pm Sunday rubber match. The Jets again surrendered the game’s first goal, but a four-goal explosion in the second period and more solid goaltending, this time from Grant Riley, helped the Jets earn the sweep. Isaac Novak picked up two more goals, and Charlie Schoen put together another three-point night to earn him serious consideration for the Midwest Division’s Star of the Week.
The game’s opening goal came off of some excellent off-puck movement from the Wilderness. Nate Horn found Tyler Watkins (14:25 1st) attacking the net behind the play, and Watkins finished along the ice for Minnesota’s only lead of the night.
A fantastic individual effort tied the game for Janesville, when Jake Dunlap (2:38 2nd) beat his defenseman in a quick one-on-one rush, then put a hurried shot past Kaleb Johnson. Later in the period, the floodgates opened. Just as their two-man advantage expired and became a conventional five-on-four, Janesville scored on a one-timer from Nick Nardella to Isaac Novak (12:10 2nd). Just 68 seconds later, recently-committed Jackson Sabo (13:18 2nd) finished a rebound and doubled the lead. Later, Charlie Schoen (17:29 2nd) took a pass from Justin Thompson, toe-dragged around a defenseman, and roofed a shot for the 4-1 lead.
Midway through the third period, the Jets scored again on the two-man advantage when Charlie Schoen‘s sixth point of the weekend, a precision cross-ice pass from the goal line, found the red-hot stick of Isaac Novak (9:30 3rd). The Wilderness would add two goals later, climbing back to within two with five minutes and change left to play, but Riley and the Jets shut the door on the comeback effort.
Grant Riley (11-16-1-0) earned his ninth win away from the Janesville Ice Arena in a 31-save effort. Second-year Wilderness starter Kaleb Johnson (13-11-1-0) could hardly be faulted on several of the evening’s goals, and finished 21/26 in the loss.
Around the Division
Springfield Jr. Blues 6 @ Topeka Pilots 3
Austin Bruins 4 @ Chippewa Steel 5
Maine Nordiques 2 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5
New Mexico Ice Wolves 3 @ Kenai River Brown Bears 4
Springfield Jr. Blues 2 @ Topeka Pilots 5
Austin Bruins 2 @ Chippewa Steel 5
Maine Nordiques 2 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 6
New Mexico Ice Wolves 2 @ Kenai River Brown Bears 8
|1||Fairbanks Ice Dogs||42||30-9-1-2||63|
|2||Kenai River Brown Bears||42||24-13-2-3||53|
|6||Springfield Jr. Blues||41||13-25-2-1||29|
The first of six-straight home games is this Friday when the Springfield Jr. Blues come to town.
Leivermann said that though he’s looking forward to this home stretch, it’s not something the team has really discussed.
“We haven’t talked about it much at all, to be honest,” Leivermann said about the Jets’ schedule imbalance. “But I did look around the league and noticed we’ve played the fewest home games of any team in the league.”
He’s right. The Jets have played exactly one third of their schedule at home — 13 of 39 games have been at the Janesville Ice Arena, with 22 road games and four at the NAHL Showcase. This means, of course, that the remaining totals are 15 home and just six on the road.
“This’ll be good for us to get home, enjoy playing at our rink, and hopefully providing our fans with a lot of wins,” said Leivermann. “This season’s been a long grind with a steep learning curve. As a coaching staff we’re excited to get more home games in, play in front of these fans, and sleep in our own beds.”
The Jets are home for each of the next six Saturdays. In the 36 days between this Friday and March 7, the Janesville Ice Arena will host 11 Jets home games.
That’s a lot of home-cooked meals, a lot of pre-game naps in familiar beds, and a hopefully a lot of goal horns at “The Hangar.”
Jr. Blues @ Jets | Fri Jan 31 | 7:05pm CST
Jr. Blues @ Jets | Sat Feb 1 | 7:05pm CST