It took only two minutes for Janesville to open the scoring in their first game against their in-state rival Chippewa Steel. Following a broken play in Chippewa’s end, Jonah Aegerter pounced on a loose puck to the right of the goal crease and tossed it in for his ninth goal of the season. Grayden Daul and Jimmy Doyle added assists on the opening score.
At the 6:44 mark of the opening frame, the Lasak-LeClerc connection made another appearance after Zigi Lasak made an incredible cross-ice pass to Cy LeClerc, who fired home his 21st goal of the year. The Green Bay native Spencer Kring was in on the goal along with Lasak.
The Jets made it clear they were not messing around after scoring another goal, this one coming only 13 seconds after LeClerc’s. With some slick stick-handling and evasive maneuvers, Aegerter dangled his way through Steel defenders and found Jack Larrigan on the back door, who finished the play with his first goal wearing the Jets logo. The score chased Chippewa netminder Croix Kochendorfer, who came into Friday’s game with a 1.87 GAA in his last three matchups and just being recently named to the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Ranking list as the 27th ranked North American goaltender. He was one of only two goalies in the NAHL to make the list.
The barrage of goals was a monumental moment in the game, as Jets head coach Parker Burgess mentioned pregame that Kochendorfer was a crucial part of Chippewa’s game and that it would be essential to test him early. With three goals on four shots, the Jets were off and running. Zach Hansen came on in relief.
Chippewa managed to make it a game following two goals in the final three minutes of the first period. Parker Gnos scored with only 24 seconds left after a mad dash around the crease to make it a 3-2 game.
The Steel carried their strong momentum from their two first-period goals into the second when they tied it at three while on the power play at the 6:40 mark. Another net mouth scramble played to the benefit of the Steel, and the puck managed to find the stick of Nick Sajevic, who cashed in on the man advantage.
Almost ten minutes passed before we saw a goal, and it was for the good guys. With Cannon Lentz carrying the puck up towards the point, he dropped it off for LeClerc, who, with a Steel defender on his back, chipped a pass to his roommate Lasak, who one-timed a bullet from the slot past Hansen. It was a high-IQ play, as Zigi moved from the high slot into a position where LeClerc could give him a pass that allowed enough space to also get a shot away, and it worked to perfection. Zigi’s 13th goal of the season put the Jets back on top 4-3.
With two and a half minutes to play, the Jets added what was, at the time, an insurance goal but eventually turned into the game-winning goal. The captain Cal Mell skated his way into the slot and ripped a wrist shot through traffic and in that made it 5-3 Jets. After a long cycle through the Steel zone, Janesville took advantage of some tired defenders, and with some slick passing between Grayden Daul and Mell, found twine to take a two-goal lead into the third.
The Jets controlled the game for almost all of the final period until the Steel got a bit of luck and went to a power play with 3:30 to go. After some time in the Jets’ end, Joe Kelly hit a one-timer that went off of Owen Millward’s glove and in. With no traffic in front, it was a rare goal to see given Millward’s strong presence in the crease, but it would be an understatement to say that Kelly got every square inch on his shot.
Down just one after the PPG, the Steel again managed to draw another penalty, and with the net empty, had a 6-on-4 advantage with a minute to go. Between passes around the zone, the Steel eventually took a shot and appeared to tie the game at five with 24 seconds left miraculously. After the puck entered the net, it seemed off its pegs, which drew some discussion between the officials. A few minutes following a long talk in front of the scorer’s table, the officials overturned their call and said no goal.
A shocking turnaround left the fans in attendance dismayed, and the turn of events seemingly took a chunk out of the Steel skaters as well, as the Jets managed to kill off the remaining time and sneak away with a 5-4 victory.
With the final horn came boos from the home stands and a large gathering, paired with some frustrated shouting around the officiating group to try and get one final explanation on the call. While the Steel stayed on the ice to partake in their postgame jersey auction, the Jets skated to their locker room two points richer and with their fifth consecutive win in their back pocket. It may have been a bit of an ugly win, but as the saying goes, a win is a win, and those are more important than words can describe at this point in the season.
Despite the barrage of shots he faced late in the third period, Owen Millward secured his fourth straight win in three starts, making 30 saves on 34 shots. In those previous four games, he owns a 2.00 GAA and has made at least 30 saves in four of his last five starts.