JANESVILLE, WI – Second-year defenseman Cal Mell will wear the “C” on his sweater and serve as the captain of the Janesville Jets in the 2021-22 season.
Forward Robby Newton, who is in his third season, will join second-year defensemen AJ Casperson and Spencer Kring, who is in his third year in the NAHL and second in Janesville, along with forward Ján “Zigi” Lašák as alternate captains.
“We knew right off the bat that we had a tremendous leadership group here in Janesville for this season,” said head coach Parker Burgess. “You learn a lot about the guys within your group when you have to go through adversity, and we went through ours up in Alaska. When we were up there for 20 days and on a losing streak, we learned a lot about the leaders of this group and felt pretty good about the guys we were going to announce as captains when we came back from that road trip.”
While five players are the set captains and will have the lettered patch on the front of their sweater, Burgess reiterated his confidence in the team and its ability for those who aren’t official captains to step up still and take charge.
“We have a ton of players in that locker room that are great leaders and could all be captains,” said Burgess. “There is a lot of chemistry between every man on this roster, and that’s a big plus when it comes to those leadership qualities. Everyone has each other’s back and is always supporting one another.”
The captains’ selection came just before the Jets started their three-week stretch of games at home, which saw them post a 5-1 record in six games following nearly two months on the road.
An age-out defenseman from Cumming, Georgia, Cal Mell played in the NAPHL and EHL before joining the Jets last year. In two seasons with the Walpole Express of the Eastern Hockey League, Mell registered 48 points in 84 games, with 24 assists in his final year in Massachusetts. Mell made his Jets debut in the 2020 season on November 5 against Fairbanks, registered an assist, and was a +1 in the 6-4 win. The d-man has already surpassed his point total from last season and in 15 fewer games. This, thanks to a dominant month of November that saw the captain notch ten assists in only nine games. The high level of play from Mell earned him Defenseman of the Month for November.
Mell is in his final year with the Jets and has yet to make a college commitment, but the numbers (and the work ethic) don’t lie. They say that Cal is not only a strong hockey player on the ice, but he is also just as great a teammate and individual in the locker room, on the bench, and in the community, and any program would be fortunate to have him. Mell has shown that his production on the ice, ability to mentor and help the younger members of the roster, and upbeat attitude and positivity have made him a standout guy, even if the entirety of the roster has a strong sense of leadership. The members at the top cultivate the culture, and Mell has undoubtedly contributed to building a well-connected locker room, making him an excellent captain this season.
“It’s a huge honor to be the captain of the Janesville Jets this year. I’m going into my final year with the Jets, and it’s always something that I’ve wanted but haven’t needed, but it’s really special to me to get that recognition. We’ve got an awesome group behind me, and I know that they have my back and are great leaders, so it’s a productive group that we have this year. Last year I learned a lot from the captain, Carter Hottmann, and the rest of that leadership group. We’re building off of the elements they had in place last year, but we’re adding our ideas and styles into the mix, too, and that’s helped build a great bond with our leaders and the team as a whole. We’re taking the things we’ve learned from the guys in years past, so we’re taking those experiences, adding them to our own, and passing them down to the younger guys. This is my fourth year playing junior hockey and second with the Jets, so I’ve played a lot of hockey and come up through a lot of different environments and feel I can adjust to anything that’s thrown at me. We’ve all built some great chemistry since last year, and being in this leadership group with these guys along with some returners will really help make this whole team work together well, and I’m very excited to bring it all together and make some big things happen.”
“Cal is a great kid with a big heart and an amazing work ethic. He’s not a big rah-rah guy, which many people associate as leadership, so we know that he will lead by what he does rather than what he says, and that will make him a great leader. He’ll lead by example. He shows up every day with a great attitude, knows his role, and carries out the duties of a leader exceptionally well. The guys pay attention to him, they listen to what he says, and he’s a great communicator, which helps a ton during games. Cal is a strong player on the ice, he plays a very smart defensive game, and you look at the numbers; he’s a playmaker and can create offense well. He’s got a lot of great qualities that have us confident that he’ll continue to be a great captain.” — Parker Burgess
A three-year member of the Jets, Milwaukeean Robby Newton has known Wisconsin hockey for almost all of his playing days. Starting in 2015, Newton played with the University School of Milwaukee Wildcats, where he played for the next three seasons. In his final two years with the Wildcats, Newton recorded 99 points in 48 games. The 2018 season was where Newton ramped up the play in his home state after playing with the highly touted Team Wisconsin program, where he put up 19 points (11 G-8A) in 21 games. From there, Newton returned to Milwaukee to play for the University School and put up a second-best 55 points (18G-37A) in 24 games. Later that year, the TW alum finally landed in Janesville and played six games. The 2019 season saw Newton climb the junior-league ladder after he was drafted in the 2019 USHL Draft 69th overall by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. Additionally, the kid who grew up playing hockey in Wisconsin announced his commitment to play for the University of Wisconsin at the start of the 2019 campaign.
In 22 games in his first year with the Riders, Newton scored 12 points in 22 games before being traded to the Sioux City Musketeers, where he would finish his season. Newton opened the 2020 season in Iowa with the Musketeers but eventually returned to his Wisconsin roots in Janesville, played 22 regular-season games, and went into the playoffs with the Jets. Newton, who is playing in his final year, has recorded 16 points in his 23 games thus far and has continued to serve as a great teammate and hard player in Janesville. The alternate captain crown makes it all official for Newton, cementing him as a leader for the Jets in what has been a long run for the Wisco kid.
“It means a lot to have the opportunity to represent these guys in my last season here. To be able to help some of the younger guys develop and know that they’ll look to me as a mentor and leader, it’s a special feeling. I’ve played with two different captains over the last three years here, but for me to be a part of it and wear a letter, as well as live in the future of what was built by the captains before us, is a big responsibility, but it really is an honor. This city has helped me become the hockey player I am, and to have been here the last three seasons and to finish it out as a part of this leadership great is incredible, and I’m really excited to get working with these guys.”
“Robby is a strong and smart player, and having his veteran status as a part of the leadership group will work really well. Everyone here plays hard, but Robby is a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy; he’s a grinder, a goal scorer, sees the ice well, and has a high hockey IQ. He brings a lot to the table on the ice, but he’s also an approachable guy, and I know the other players here look up to him, and we’re confident that he’ll help those younger players grow and develop, as well as help get things done on the ice.” — Parker Burgess
Casperson joins his d-partner Cal Mell as part of the leadership group for this season. He is one of three defensemen to represent the captains, along with Mell and Spencer Kring. A native of Flower Mound, Texas, Casperson is a player you can hear from outside the rink. His vocal presence is unparalleled, and he knows how to rally the troops if needed or communicate with his fellow defenseman and the rest of the team. After starting with the Dallas Stars 14U team in 2015, AJ stayed with the Elite Hockey League team in Irvin, Texas through 16U until playing for Salisbury School in the US High School Prep league. He also saw time with the Rochester Selects 18U and Rochester Coalition 18U teams in his final year before heading West and joining Janesville in the 2020-21 season.
The Jets took Casperson in the 2020 NAHL Entry Draft, and he has made great strides forward in his second year in Janesville. Through 22 games, he’s recorded 14 assists and a goal and has a +11 rating. Between his ability to fire up the team, set up the power play, and communicate efficiently and effectively on the ice and from the bench, Casperson adds a significant element to the leadership group.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here that lead well that goes beyond just us five; it really is the whole team that has a role. It spans from guys that are an ’04, a goalie, a forward; no matter your age, we all have to lead in some way, but I know it’s important to set the tone and lead by example on and off the ice. Janesville has developed me as a hockey player and person, and I’m extremely grateful for it. As a returner, I feel very confident that I’ve made the right strides in becoming a leader and a guy that my teammates can rely on.”
“We knew that AJ was going to be a great part of this leadership group with how vocal he was. Whether it was bringing the energy during practice or on game day or helping his teammates, he’s a guy that is a great communicator, and that’s something that we know he’ll excel in. As a returner, like the rest of this captains group, we had a lot of confidence that AJ would gel well with the rest of this group, especially the two defensemen (Mell and Kring). He’s got a great aura, and as I said, he brings the energy, and we know that’s going to help the team.” — Parker Burgess
Spencer Kring rounds out the defensemen portion of the leadership group this year for the Jets. Kring, who is playing in his third season in the NAHL and second in Janesville, grew up in Hobart, Wisconsin, a small town just outside Titletown, aka Green Bay. Like his fellow captain Robby Newton, “Kringer” spent some time with Team Wisconsin from 2015 to 2017 after starting play with the Green Bay Jr. Gamblers 13U program. The d-man also played two years for the Bay Port High School Pirates, where he scored 37 points in 48 games.
Though he had indeed gotten the luxury of playing close to him, Kring eventually made his way to the East coast to South Kent, Connecticut, and began playing with the Selects Academy 16U and 18U programs. He was a member of championship-winning teams in both 16U and 18U seasons in the USPHL. In the 2019 NAHL Draft, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights selected Kring in the 4th round, keeping him close to where he started his new hockey career away from home.
The following year saw Kring return to his native roots and sign in Janesville. In his first season as a Jet, the Jr. Gamblers product played in 38 games and finished the year as a +15. He’s a player that has an itch for the sport of hockey, and his 113 games in the NAHL back that up.
“It’s obviously a huge honor to be chosen as a leader for any team, but this one in Janesville in particular means even more, especially with it being my last year. We have a very structured and cultural aspect of our team, so holding that leadership role puts you in a position where you know you’re given the duty of holding guys accountable, and that’s special. It sounds weird, but being a leader here doesn’t mean you have to wear a letter; everyone here is a leader in their own way, everyone helps each other get better as hockey players and as people, but to get the opportunity to be one of five guys that the rest of this squad will look up to is exciting. I know that we can accomplish some great things.”
“Spencer has a lot of experience playing in this league, and that certainly was a contributing factor to having him serve as part of this group, but he’s a smart kid and a great player in this program. Everyone here is a great communicator, and the history with these guys helps, but Spencer is a guy that always has his ears open and is always contributing. On the ice, he’s a strong player, and you know when it comes to going out in the community and helping out, he’s one of the first guys to jump in. We know that’s one thing we’re about here in Janesville, is giving back, and Spencer checks that off in addition to how great of a teammate he is.” — Parker Burgess
One of three foreign-born players in Janesville this year, Jan “Zigi” Lašák will wear an alternate patch after landing in Janesville once again. Lašák’s background in hockey is quite a trip, between playing back in the Czech Republic, to the warm beaches of Florida, then a cold awakening in Michigan, Zigi has been through it all. In his final year with HC Dynamo Pardubice in the Czech U16 league, Lašák finished as a point-per-game player, posting 33 points in 33 games of play. His career took a massive leap forward when he came to the United States and reported to the South Florida Hockey Academy 16U team in 2018.
His first hockey season in America turned some heads, as the Slovak posted 42 points in 62 games. That first year was impressive enough for long-time NHLer and head coach at the time Olli Jokinen, who is third all-time in points for the Florida Panthers, to name Lašák the captain of the team for the 2018-19 season. That year was his best after he scored 46 goals and 45 assists (91 points) in 57 games. In his two seasons with the 16U team, Lašák racked up 133 total points in 119 games, making him the South Florida Hockey Academy 16U franchise leader in total points and goals.
Lašák’s father, who shares the same name, Jan Lašák, certainly seemed to pass down some hockey skill to his son, though Lašák Jr. had to find the goal-scoring abilities himself. Lašák Sr., a goaltender, was drafted 65th overall in the second round of the 1999 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators. The netminder started his career in the big leagues with the Nashville AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, where he turned in a .913 save percentage and 2.61 goals-against average over 43 games. He made his NHL debut with the Predators in the 2001 season and played a total of six games at the NHL level.
In his first year with the Jets in 2019, Zigi put up 12 points in 13 games to open the season. His hot start got him called up to the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who drafted him in the USHL Entry Draft 94th overall that summer. Later that season, Lašák returned home to play for the Slovakia U18 team at the International Juniors. He stayed in Slovakia for the 2020-21 year and played in four games with Jokerit U20. As the saying goes, all roads lead home, and Zigi found his way back to the ‘Ville when the Jets drafted him 16th overall in the 2021 NAHL Supplemental Draft. Zigi signed his National Letter of Intent with St. Lawrence University at the beginning of November this season and will represent his home country of Slovakia in the 2022 World Juniors in Alberta. To make things even more exciting, Zigi and his team will face off against Team USA a day after Christmas in the opening round of the tournament.
“Of course, it’s a big honor to be named assistant captain here along with the other four great guys around me. I know that they’ve got my back, and I’ll always have theirs, and that goes for this whole team. This whole team contributes from the first line to the fourth line, making it easy for us as leaders to help us continue to succeed. I’m having a great time with these guys, and I know that as a leadership group and as a team, we can continue to find success.”
“Zigi has an infectious personality and always brings a positive attitude to the rink. He’s a guy that many players look up to and try and follow as far as everyday attitude goes, and that’s what makes him a great leader. His background in hockey is a great strength for him, and in Janesville, I think it’ll provide a lot not only for him to grow as a leader but for the rest of the guys too. When you come up from different locker rooms and cultures, you can mix in the things you’ve picked up over the years and create something that works. Between Zigi and the other four leaders here, I’m excited to see what they put together and how things play out.” — Parker Burgess
The Jets will get to enjoy some extra time off this December, starting with this weekend, then another for the holidays following a series with Fairbanks.