JANESVILLE, WI — Offense was on display last weekend at the Janesville Ice Arena between the Jets and the visiting Minnesota Wilderness, who combined for 21 goals in the split series. The winning team scored 15 of those 21 in a pair of exciting (if sloppy) matches with four goaltenders posting a combined .862 save percentage.
Janesville won Friday’s contest on a four-goal third period, keeping their foot on the accelerator late in the game with help from Matt Hanewall and Austin Koss, who each scored in the final 69 seconds to clinch a win from what was a back-and-forth affair. Friday’s win was the second time in the last 16 home games (regular season plus playoffs) Janesville has scored 7 goals, dating back to a 7-2 win over the Coulee Region Chill in the last contest between those clubs before the Chill became the Chippewa Steel.
Perhaps the Jets were riding too high from Friday’s win, or perhaps some bad bounces visited to turn their luck, or perhaps (much more likely, it seems) a total combination of misplay and misfortune evened the series Saturday in Minnesota’s 8-2 victory.
One of sports’ interesting ironies is how much easier it can be to shake off a lopsided defeat rather than a narrow loss. Janesville has a great opportunity to rebound this Friday versus Fairbanks.
First, a look at a crazy weekend at the Janesville Ice Arena.
FRIDAY — W, 7-4
Janesville never trailed in Friday’s win, but did allow the Wilderness to tie the game three times before the attack woke up in the third period and put the game on ice.
Captain Brenden MacLaren (8:52 1st), celebrating his 20th birthday, got his team going early with a rebound goal off of a Nick Nardella shot. Finnish forward Oula Kuure (12:56 1st) tied it from the slot on the power play, and the game stayed tied for about six more minutes until the crowd witnessed a highlight-reel first career goal from Mason Salquist (18:48 1st).
Salquist’s showstopper kept his Jets ahead into the intermission and well through the second period. The Wilderness got a bounce when Jacob Herter (14:31 2nd) threw an innocent puck on net from the corner and it leaked through Cole Brady to tie the game 2-2. Late in the period, it was again Mason Salquist (18:59 2nd) regaining the lead for his Jets, this time on a back door rebound.
The Jets’ lead lasted just 17 seconds into the third period. A low defensive breakdown gave Dylan Johnson (0:17 3rd ) an easy look for what would be the last equalizer of the game. Janesville won the following 19:43 of play on a 4-1 margin, featuring goals from Tommy Middleton (4:52 3rd), Jack Vincent (6:19 3rd), Matt Hanewall (18:51 3rd), and Austin Koss (19:33 3rd). The Wilderness scored a power play goal from Aaron Myers (15:02 3rd) between those four Jets goals, but it was too little, too late.
North Dakota recruit Kaleb Johnson played the full game for the Wilderness, stopping 31 of 37 shots in the loss. Cole Brady earned his third straight win, also making 31 saves.
SATURDAY — L, 8-2
Seven seconds was all it took for the Wilderness to light the lamp Saturday en route to their 8-2 win.
Right off the draw, Minnesota gained the blue line easily and worked up the left wing for a cross-crease pass to Nick Portz (0:07 1st), who tapped in his crowd-silencing seventh goal of the season. The Jets would hang in for much of the first period until Isaac Kobenia (14:03 1st) finished a cross-crease play similar to the first goal.
Austin Grzenia (5:32 2nd) made it a 3-0 lead with the eventual game-winner in the second period, finishing yet another quick passing play right in front of Cole Brady. The Jets got one back a few minutes later off the stick of Sean Driscoll (8:02 2nd) when the Mequon defenseman drilled a shot past Ryan Fanti. Minnesota responded 38 seconds later with an Isaac Kobenia (8:40 2nd) goal before Dylan Johnson (13:41 2nd; 17:27 2nd) scored twice to extend their lead to 6-2.
Affiliate player and emergency backup Jacob Lefton would fill in for Brady to start the 3rd period. Jack Johnson (1:39 3rd) and Nathan Poolman (4:25 3rd) scored early in the period for Minnesota, climbing the game to 8-1. Justin Engelkes (16:38 3rd) earned the game’s last goal.
Ryan Fanti was very good in net for the Wilderness, stopping 31 of 33 shots. Cole Brady took the loss, making 24 saves on 30 shots. Jacob Lefton finished 8/10 in 20 minutes.
Around the Division
Kenai River Brown Bears 1 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5
Springfield Jr. Blues 4 @ Topeka Pilots 3
Chippewa Steel 3 @ Aberdeen Wings 9
Kenai River Brown Bears 0 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 4
Springfield Jr. Blues 2 @ Topeka Pilots 6
Chippewa Steel 3 @ Aberdeen Wings 12
Kenai River Brown Bears 4 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 3
|2||Fairbanks Ice Dogs||26||14-9-1-2||31|
|4||Springfield Jr. Blues||25||10-12-2-1||23|
|5||Kenai River Brown Bears||26||10-13-2-1||23|
A rare Saturday off follows a single game versus the Fairbanks Ice Dogs this weekend. This is the first open Saturday of the season for the Jets, and except for the Christmas break (Saturday December 22), it’s the last until March 30, when the team will pause after a Thursday/Friday home series versus the Magicians.
The Ice Dogs play at Chippewa Saturday night.
Different junior hockey coaches will give you different opinions about regular season “off” weekends, but regardless of philosophy, regardless of strategy, the apparentness is this: defeating Fairbanks this Friday will, if only for a day, give Janesville sole possession of second place in the Midwest Division, and a much happier day “off.”
Last weekend, the Ice Dogs won two of three in a home set versus the Kenai River Brown Bears, whom they swept in a three-game series on the road the weekend prior. Fairbanks is 6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games.
The last meeting between Fairbanks and Janesville was in early October, when the teams split a series in Fairbanks on the Jets’ opening weekend of their first Alaska trip this season. Janesville won the Friday game 4-2 with two big third period goals from Erik Palmqvist and Austin Koss, but Fairbanks took the Saturday game 5-0. The Friday win was also notable as goaltender Garrett Nieto’s last game as a Jet before suffering what would become a season-ending hip injury. Nieto, currently rehabbing at home in southern California, is aiming for a late January return to Janesville.
Since becoming division rivals in fall 2015, the Jets hold a 11-5-2-2 regular season record versus the Ice Dogs. The teams have met in each of the last two Midwest Division Finals, with Janesville winning a 3-1 series in 2016-17 and Fairbanks winning a 3-2 series last spring.
Tickets are still available for Friday’s game, which features a special holiday promotion. Courtesy of Jets sponsor Wisco Insurance, the first 250 fans through the door will receive a voucher redeemable at concessions for a free hot cocoa.
Friday’s game will be broadcast featuring Calvin Bush’s call on HockeyTV.com.
Ice Dogs @ Jets | Fri Dec 7 | 7:00pm CST