By Mason Lyttle
JANESVILLE, WI – The Janesville Jets, proud members of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), are pleased to announce the selections of head coach Joe Dibble and five players to the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament held February 15-16 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
The tournament, presented by Easton, features teams from each of the four NAHL divisions: Central, East, Midwest, and South, as well as a NAHL Selects team. In addition, the US National Team Development Program (NTDP) will send its U-17 team, the third consecutive year the program has sent a team.
Named to the Midwest roster are recent acquisition Dawson DiPietro and veterans Adam Winborg and Alex Smith. Andrew Roye will play for the East Division team. All four are 1995-born and in their final year of junior eligibility.
Goaltender Jack LaFontaine, a 1998-born commit to the University of Michigan, will play on the NAHL Selects team, having been identified as a player to watch by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting department. Jets head coach and general manager Joe Dibble will assume assistant coach duties for the Selects team, behind Marty Murray of the Minot Minotauros.
“I’m very excited for our players,” said Dibble at the time of the league’s roster release. “This tournament has done great things for kids in the past and I’m happy that some of our deserving veterans are getting the chance to showcase their talents. They’ve definitely earned it.”
DiPietro, a 5’11” forward from Ohio, joined the Jets by way of a trade with the Austin Bruins earlier this month. The skilled forward has injected some life into Janesville’s scoring, tallying seven points in his first four games with the Jets before seeing his three-game multi-point streak snapped Saturday in La Crosse. DiPietro, a product of Michigan’s Belle Tire program, notched 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points through 30 games played in Austin to begin the year.
Winborg, the third-year center from Stockholm, Sweden, sits just behind DiPietro with 32 points in 35 games this season. At the NAHL’s Showcase Tournament in September, Winborg passed Ross Mauermann to become the Jets’ all-time leading scorer. He has used his skill and his size (6’2”/200) to consistently convert power plays for Janesville, scoring 29 career goals on the man-advantage unit.
“I’m super excited,” said Winborg. “It’s a great opportunity for players who get to go and represent their teams. I just want to make the most of it. Hopefully there will be someone there who likes what they see out of any of us Jets players.”
Smith, a 6’0”, 190-pound defenseman from Brownstown, Michigan, has also played a huge factor for Janesville’s power play over his three seasons. In 95 career NAHL games, he has totaled 28 power play points. Smith scored a late power play goal in Saturday’s loss to Coulee Region, giving him three points in three games since returning from a hand injury that kept him out for 18 games. Last season, his strong skating and abilities on the power play placed him eighth in scoring among defensemen with 36 points in 54 games.
“There’s a lot I hope to get out of this,” said Smith of his second straight selection to the tournament. “I hope to learn from the other guys on the Midwest team.”
As a veteran of the Top Prospects Tournament, Smith also offered some advice to newcomers from around the league.
“I’d tell them to stay calm,” he said. “It is a pretty big stage, but don’t let the hype or seeing all of the scouts in the stands get in your head. Just play your game and don’t try to do too much.”
Smith continued about his excitement to play in his home state.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played in Michigan, with there not being any NAHL teams there anymore,” he said. “It gives some friends and family that can’t come to Janesville the opportunity to see me play.”
Roye, another skilled defenseman from Michigan, has provided leadership and steady two-way play at the blue line all season. After playing last season with the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League (USHL), Roye was selected in the second round with Janesville’s first pick in the 2015 NAHL Entry Draft. In 73 career NAHL games between Janesville and the Topeka RoadRunners, the 5’10” Roye has tallied 31 points and skated to a +27 mark.
“It’ll be cool playing in a couple big games in front of family and friends,” said the native of Orchard Lake, about 20 miles north of Plymouth. “I haven’t played a game that close to home since high school. It’ll be fun.”
LaFontaine, the youngster of the group, was ranked 10th among North American goaltenders by the NHL’s Central Scouting in their midterm report released earlier this month. The Canadian goaltender made his commitment in December to coach Red Berenson and the University of Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten. LaFontaine is putting together a strong case for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award with a 13-7-2-1 record and a .917 save percentage.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity and will be working hard on and off the ice to prepare myself for the event,” said LaFontaine. “I hope to represent the Janesville Jets organization with pride.”
Dibble will perform assistant coach duties for LaFontaine’s Selects team. Last season, following a league-record 49-win, 100-point season, Dibble was named General Manager of the Year by the NAHL. Over the past four seasons under Dibble, the Jets have sent 34 players on to play Division I hockey, and have advanced several others to the USHL.
The Jets have now sent 22 players to the past four Top Prospects Tournaments. 14 of the 17 from the 2013, 2014, and 2015 tournaments have secured Division I commitments or are currently playing D-I hockey. Brock Kautz (Minnesota), Alec Vanko (Minnesota State Mankato), Conor Lemirande (Miami University), Ruslan Pedan (Bemidji State), Drew Callin (Bentley), Robin Hoglund (Minnesota), Evan Feno (Air Force), Zach LaValle (Miami University), and Zach Yoder (Air Force) are each already playing for their schools. Michael Bigelbach (Minnesota State Mankato), Kyle Patava (Air Force), Logan Halladay (Minnesota), Brandon Schultz (Northeastern), and Mitch Fossier (Maine) will join their schools after finishing their junior hockey careers.
The tournament’s roster makeup is based upon winning percentage following a temporary standings freeze on January 17. Each divisional team’s 20-man roster is composed of the traditional 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders, none of whom may carry a commitment to an NCAA program. The Selects team consists of players either noticed by the NAHL for excellent play, or identified by the NHL’s Central Scouting as a player to watch for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Last season, over 200 scouts attended the event, featuring representatives from nearly every NCAA Division I school and NHL team. More than one-third of players from last year’s event ended up with a Division I commitment. All tournament games are broadcast live on FASTHockey.com. For scheduling, tickets, and more information, visit www.nahl.com/tpt.
Contact the Janesville Jets front office at 608-752-JETS or go to www.janesvillejets.com for details on Jets ticket rates. Stay connected with the Jets through Facebook (/janesvillehockey) and Twitter (@JanesvilleJets1).
— JANESVILLE JETS —