JANESVILLE, WI — Hosting the division’s top-seeded Kenai River Brown Bears in their final games of 2019, the Jets, finally icing a healthy lineup, played 125 minutes of excellent hockey, pulling off a 1-1 series split.
“Overall we played two very good games this weekend,” said head coach Corey Leivermann. “It was the first time we had our full roster since the Blaine Showcase. Even though we split, I was proud of the effort both nights.”
Back in the lineup for the weekend were forwards Justin Engelkes (illness), Jake Dunlap (USHL call-up), and Charlie Schoen (USHL call-up). Forward Parker Lindauer also recently returned from an injury.
Despite the losing result Friday, the effort was there for a victory. Great goaltending from recent Boston College commit Grant Riley and a little bad puck luck kept the Jets from earning a point, but a Saturday hat trick from Isaac Novak helped the Jets earn the split.
“That was a big win before our Christmas break,” Leivermann said. “It was well-deserved for our players and fans who have supported us all season. The plan moving forward is to head home, enjoy Christmas break with family and friends, and relax and mentally prepare for a big second half push.”
FRIDAY — L, 3-1
The Jets worked hard enough for a win Friday night, but couldn’t come away with a point. Janesville outshot Kenai River 38-24, but excellent goaltending from Danny Fraga and a bad bounce own-goal in the second period stole a win for the Brown Bears.
Scoring in the first period for the Brown Bears was Cody Moline (13:21 1st), who tipped a shot from defenseman Dylan Hadfield past Riley.
Midway through the second, Brown Bears forward Peter Morgan (7:53 2nd) drove the left wing and centered a pass intended for Cody Moline, but the puck bounced off a Jets body in front and trickled past Riley for the 2-0 Kenai River lead.
The Jets pushed hard in the third, outshooting the Brown Bears 15-6 in the final frame. Janesville finally got on the board when Nick Michel (8:26 3rd) threw a puck on net from an impossible angle, somehow scoring his third of the season. Just a few minutes later, Kenai River forward Porter Schachle ran Jets defenseman Blake Dangos high into the glass, earning a five-minute major and a 20-minute game misconduct for head contact. With 8:26 left to play and clinging to a one-goal lead, the Brown Bears’ penalty kill staved off all five minutes of the Jets’ best opportunity to tie the game and earn a point in the standings. An empty-netter from league-leading scorer Zach Krajnik (19:30) sealed the game for Kenai River.
Danny Fraga (3-3-0-0) was superb for the Brown Bears, winning his second straight game by turning aside 37 of the Jets’ 38 shots. Grant Riley (9-14-1-0) also had a very solid game, making 21 saves on 23 shots in an effort that usually produces a victory.
SATURDAY — W, 5-4 (SO)
The closing game of the series and of the calendar year was an absolute treat for both the Jets and their fans. A hat trick, multiple third period comebacks, and some shootout drama were all on display as the Jets eked out the victory.
Isaac Novak (8:51 1st) began an incredible night with a power play goal, scoring from in tight on a feed from Jake Dunlap. Kenai River tied the game on a similar low-slot one-timer from Jack Quinn (14:38 1st), but the Jets responded quickly. The veteran line of Justin Engelkes, Parker Lindauer, and Nick Nardella (16:54 1st) clicked on a pretty passing play following a takeaway on the forecheck.
The lone goal of the second period was also Novak’s. Henry Sweeney carried the puck up the right wing and recognized the opportunity for an easy rebound goal. He threw a shot along the ice towards the far pad of Landon Pavlisin, yielding an easy rebound for Isaac Novak (6:26 2nd) to regain the two-goal lead for Janesville.
Confidence often comes pretty easy for first-place teams, and that appeared to be the case again Saturday. Kenai River came out of the locker room with plenty of determination, and mounted a comeback. First was Logan Ritchie (0:24 3rd) scoring on a wrister in the period’s opening minute. Shortly later, Theo Thrun (2:29 3rd) generated a partial two-on-one, and elected to shoot, beating Riley Sims far side to tie the game at 3-3. The Brown Bears stole the lead a few minutes later on a rebound marker from Peter Morgan (6:01 3rd), who extended a league-leading goal-scoring streak to six games. Later, on the power play again, Isaac Novak (10:47 3rd) completed his hat trick on a one-timer from Charlie Schoen. The game stayed tied there, at 4-4, thanks in large part to some key saves from Sims down the stretch.
Overtime saw only a few solid chances for either team. The best came on a wide open one-timer by Brown Bears defenseman Ryan Reid, but Sims saw it the whole way.
Captain Nick Nardella played shootout hero in the bottom of the fourth round.
— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) December 22, 2019
Despite the Brown Bears’ third period burst, Riley Sims (1-1-0-0) was excellent, particularly down the stretch, and earned his first win as a Jet with 36 saves on 40 shots. Kenai River’s Landon Pavlisin (19-5-0-3), who has been a workhorse for the Brown Bears, finished at 31/35 in the loss.
Around the Division
Kenai River Brown Bears 3 @ Springfield Jr. Blues 4
Kenai River Brown Bears 5 @ Springfield Jr. Blues 0
Chippewa Steel 2 @ Minnesota Magicians 3
Kenai River Brown Bears 7 @ Springfield Jr. Blues 3
Minnesota Magicians 2 @ Chippewa Steel 6
|1||Kenai River Brown Bears||34||22-8-1-3||48|
|2||Fairbanks Ice Dogs||34||22-9-1-2||47|
|6||Springfield Jr. Blues||33||10-20-2-1||23|
By Sunday, almost all Jets players had made their way home for the holiday break, an extended one this season for Janesville. Without a game until January 10th, players and coaches will enjoy some much-needed rest time before another Battle of Wisconsin kicks off the 2020 slate of games.
The in-state rival Chippewa Steel, though, will not enjoy the same break
The Steel will play two series against the Magicians. They host Minnesota this weekend, and travel to Richfield next. The eight points available for each team means that the Magicians can chip away at (or erase entirely) Janesville’s four-point lead for fourth place in the Midwest Division.
Much could change in the standings between now and when the Jets next take the ice, but the buzz of defeating the division-leaders right before break will be hard to kill.
Jets @ Steel | Fri Jan 10 | 7:10pm CST
Steel @ Jets | Sat Jan 11 | 7:00pm CST