JANESVILLE, WI — Confidence is high in Janesville after yet another sweep of the Minnesota Magicians, this time in their own barn.
The Jets are winners of five straight and have collected 15 of a possible 18 points since their October 19 victory in Fairbanks, which closed the first Alaska road trip. Their second and final trip to the Last Frontier, another five-game swing through Fairbanks and Kenai River, begins early next week.
This nine-game stretch of road games, off to a nice start thanks in part to Jake Dunlap (two goals), Isaac Novak (two game-winners), and Grant Riley (74/77 and two wins), makes for 15% of the Jets’ 60-game season. It’s much more than a road trip, especially with the Alaska trip taking these players away from their beds for the final two weeks of it. This developing team will return to Janesville in mid-December knowing a lot more about itself and a lot more about its place in the Midwest Division.
It’s hard not to watch the standings, even this early in the season, the coaching staff has admitted. The Springfield Jr. Blues, the Jets’ hosts this upcoming weekend, ended their recent Alaska trip with three losses in three nights to the Kenai River Brown Bears. The sweep gives Janesville a four-point cushion right now over fifth-place Springfield, but head coach Corey Leivermann is much more focused on looking up than down.
The third-place Chippewa Steel carry a one-point lead over Janesville, but hold three games in hand. Both Alaska teams are in the top seven teams league-wide in points percentage.
This ground that the Jets hope to make up could seem very do-able at the start of (perhaps might even be done by) a massive stretch of home ice advantage from January 31 through March 7. In that span, always a critical time for the development of playoff pictures, the Jets will play 11 of 13 in the comforts of home.
Banking even more points over the remaining course of this road stretch can put this team in a great position for the NAHL calendar’s second half.
The streak continues Friday into Springfield. Here’s how it got to five.
FRIDAY — W, 3-2
Timely scoring and a fantastic netminding performance from Grant Riley helped the Jets overcome a 45-20 shot deficit Friday night and steal a win.
After a scoreless first, UMass-Amherst commit Jake Dunlap (3:50 2nd) jammed in a rebound to give his Jets the lead. Late in the period, Anthony Szurlej and Lucas Kanta dropped the gloves in the third fight in as many games between the Jets and the Magicians. Each player was assessed a 10-minute misconduct in addition to the five-minute fighting major.
Midway through the third, the Jets picked up a pair of goals that would include the eventual game-winner. First, Jordon Halverson (7:01 3rd) ended a flurry of chances for the Jets with an odd goal scored from behind the goal line. A rebound from a Ryan Bottrill shot found a head-up Halverson and the Hudson defenseman poked in his second of the season. Just 45 seconds later, Charlie Schoen won a loose puck race on the right wing wall and quickly sent a centering pass to Isaac Novak (7:46 3rd), who snuck behind the defense and potted what would become the deciding goal. Grant Riley‘s shutout efforts expired with less than 10 minutes to play when Blake Kryska (11:41 3rd) tapped in a backdoor pass. The Magicians climbed to within one just a few minutes later when TJ Sagissor (14:18 3rd) finished a wraparound, but Riley and the Jets held on for the win.
Grant Riley (6-7-1-0) kept the Jets alive with 19 of his 43 saves coming during the Magicians’ third period push. Wes Mankowski (1-3-3-1) made 17 saves in the loss.
SATURDAY — W, 2-1
On Saturday, in front of another very solid goaltending performance, a pair of Friday goal-scorers again found the back of the net and earned the Jets their second consecutive sweep.
Janesville got on the board first with a one-timer from Jake Dunlap (8:19 1st). Dunlap positioned himself well in the low slot and buried the pass from Jan Lasak. The Magicians tied it later when Trevor Kukkonen drove the net with a shot along the ice, and Robert Christy (15:04 1st) shoveled in the rebound.
The eventual game-winner again came from a high-effort play from Charlie Schoen to Isaac Novak (8:08 2nd), very similar to Friday night’s deciding goal. This time, Schoen stripped a Magicians defenseman on the right wing board and centered the puck to Novak, who scored his eighth of the season.
Each goaltender put in impressive work Saturday. Samuel Vyletelka (2-4-0-1) stopped 38 of Janesville’s 40 shots, and Grant Riley (7-7-1-0) turned in another remarkable performance with 31 saves and just the single goal allowed.
Around the Division
Springfield Jr. Blues 1 @ Kenai River Brown Bears 4
Chippewa Steel 4 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 2
Springfield Jr. Blues 4 @ Kenai River Brown Bears 8
Chippewa Steel 1 @ Fairbanks Ice Dogs 4
Springfield Jr. Blues 2 @ Kenai River Brown Bears 5
|1||Kenai River Brown Bears||22||14-5-1-2||31|
|2||Fairbanks Ice Dogs||21||14-6-0-1||29|
|5||Springfield Jr. Blues||22||7-12-2-1||17|
The Jets head to Springfield, Illinois, for the second time this month, renewing the franchise’s oldest rivalry.
Between the two series, the Jr. Blues jetted up to Alaska, where they finished 1-5 in a pair of three-game series versus the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Kenai River Brown Bears.
A note of positivity for Springfield came Tuesday morning, when it was announced that ’00 goaltender Ryan Wilson committed to play Division I hockey at Army. The Connecticut native faced Janesville in each of the previous two games this season, winning one and stopping 61 of 67 on the weekend.
Both games will be broadcast on HockeyTV.
Jets @ Jr. Blues | Fri Nov 22 | 7:05pm CST
Jets @ Jr. Blues | Sat Nov 23 | 6:05pm CST