JANESVILLE, WI — In their last game from home ice during the regular season, the Jets took care of business in a dominant 6-3 win and kept their foot in the playoff door. The Anchorage Wolverines lost to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in regulation on Saturday to bring the Jets back to within a point of Anchorage. The Wolverines still have a game in hand, but the Jets’ win still leaves a glimmer of hope.
Like they did Friday, the Jets opened the scoring on Saturday but kept piling on as the game continued. Only 53 seconds into the opening period, Cade Destefani (Aegerter, Casperson) recorded his eighth goal in a big kickstart to the game. Just past the halfway point of the first, the Jets hit the power play, and Will Troutwine (Destefani, Daul) ripped a one-time bomb from the right circle past Konrad Kausch for his seventh score. Janesville took their 2-0 lead into the middle frame.
The team picked up right where they left off thanks to William Gustavsson’s 23rd goal and first of two on the night. AJ Casperson and Jan Lasak added helpers on the goal to make it 3-0. The Wilderness put a temporary hold on the Jets’ barrage of offense with a shorthanded breakaway goal from Gunnar Thoreson to bring them back within two.
Janesville took the shorty right back with a goal from Arsenii Smekhnov (Newton, Aegerter), his 10th, which became the game-winner. Gustavsson added his second of the night and 24th gino of the year (Lasak, LeClerc) that gave Janesville a commanding 5-1 lead heading into the third.
The final period of regulation went scoreless for over 17 minutes before the Wilderness pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and, for a moment, made things interesting. Goals from Kullan Daikawa and Ethan Wolthers 30 seconds apart brought the Wilderness to within two with another two minutes to play. All the pressure was on Janesville, who threw countless shots towards Minnesota’s yawning cage but to no avail.
Finally, after some tense moments in their own end, Ethan Begg found the puck and skated it down the ice and into the vacated net to halt the comeback and put the game to bed. A much-needed goal for Begg, who hadn’t found the back of the net in 11 games before notching the empty-netter. As most know, all it takes is one — no matter how fluky or how it comes — when you’re in a scoring drought to get back into the swing of things. Hopefully, for “Begger,” the break will present more opportunities in Springfield. Begg’s goal had a lone assist from Cy LeClerc, his 44th year, which put him at the top of overall scoring in the NAHL with 76 total points.
After a tough go on Friday, Owen Millward got some offensive aid and turned in a great outing from the crease with 27 saves on 30 shots to record his 29th win. In what has been a spectacular second season for Milly, his 29 wins are tied for the most among all goaltenders in the league, and all have come with exceptional work in the net. As head coach Parker Burgess has mentioned repeatedly, Millward has stolen too many wins to count, and every time he’s in the crease, the Jets have a chance to win. He and the play from the rest of the squad in front of him are a significant factor in why next weekend’s games in Illinois still provide an opportunity to make it to the playoffs.
The Jets finished the regular season with a home record of 19-9-0-1, fourth-best in the Midwest Division. Their goal differential of 34 (115 goals for, 81 goals against) is second in the division, only behind the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 42.
The Wolverines have a game on Thursday night from Anchorage against the Minnesota Magicians. While the late games in Alaska aren’t for the early risers, we know eyes will be glued to the scorebox during that Thursday showdown from the Ben Boeke Ice Arena. Anchorage will follow up Thursday’s game with two more on Friday and Saturday against the Magicians. A loss in regulation from Anchorage on Thursday would make the next two games much more intriguing; a regulation win from the Jets and an overtime loss from Anchorage would result in a tie in points but would favor the Jets with more wins. That would result in a win-and-in scenario on Saturday. All situations and what-ifs aside, the Jets need to win out in Springfield and keep their fingers crossed for some assistance from the soon-to-be in-state rivals in the Magicians.
The final games of the regular season will take place in the Land of Lincoln against the Springfield Jr. Blues. In eight games against them this year, the Jets own a 3-5 record against Springfield. Their most recent game was a 5-2 loss from Janesville that snapped the Jets’ winning streak at 11 games.
One of the more notable contests this year came on February 19, when the Jets put on an offensive masterclass in a 9-1 win. Fifteen different Jets recorded a point in the rout, and Owen Millward allowed only one goal on 29 shots. While the surplus of goals was what most likely stood out, the animosity of the game was another standout when you look at the game summary. A total of 20 penalties were called between the two teams, ten aside, for 77 penalty minutes. When a game gets to that kind of score, things can get out of hand rather quickly, so you can attribute the foul play to that. There is no denying, however, that the Wisco-Illinois rivalry is alive and well after a year off for Springfield, and both teams have something to play for this weekend.
The Jr. Blues can still win the division, and we know what’s at stake for the Jets. It’s a safe assumption to make that the final weekend will be one to watch at the Nelson Center after everything that’s gone down this season. A friendly call will be available on HockeyTV and Mixlr radio, with Friday puck drop at 7:05 PM CT and an hour earlier at 6:05 PM CT on Saturday.