JANESVILLE, WI – The Jets host the Minnesota Magicians tonight and tomorrow in what is likely the most important weekend of the season to date.
For Janesville, a pair of regulation wins could send them into the Christmas break with only a three-point gap between themselves and the first-place Magicians.
The Magicians could widen the seven-point lead they currently hold over Janesville and Fairbanks before playing a pre-Christmas home-and-away set with Chippewa.
Minnesota wrestled the Midwest Division’s top spot away from the Kenai River Brown Bears early in the fall, and haven’t given up much ground since then.
First-year head coach AJ Bucchino, who won two WIAC Championships playing at University of Wisconsin-River Falls (2006 & 2007), has impressed in his first season as bench boss in Richfield. His Magicians are on an 89-point pace, led by a pair of standout goaltenders in Jack Robbel (8-1-0-0; 1.76 GAA; .949 SV%) and rookie Ethan Haider (11-5-0-0; 2.21 GAA; .929 SV%). Forward Cameron Buhl paces the Midwest Division scoring race with 30 points (10G/20A). Half a season is a lot of hockey still to be played, but it looks pretty likely that this group will sail past the franchise-best finish of 69 points (3rd place) set in the 2016-17 season.
Haider and Robbel combined for 59 saves in 125 minutes of hockey when these teams last met, a mid-November Magicians sweep in Richfield. Janesville battled back in the Friday game to tie and force overtime, but lost in the shootout, and a 30-save Robbel shutout on Saturday capped the weekend.
The Jets are 4-1 since that series, having swept Springfield on the road immediately after, then coming back to start this nine-game homestand.
Rookie goaltender Cole Brady has quickly caught on to the NAHL, and last Friday night posted his third shutout of the season. With Brady and stable veteran Sam Metcalf, recently added from the Topeka Pilots, the Jets know they have a tandem to compete with the Magicians’. Forward Jack Vincent saw a four-game point streak snap in the win over Fairbanks, but the Madison native is enjoying a strong season with 19 points in 26 games. Vincent, whose junior hockey career includes stops in Kenai River and BCHL Merritt, has yet to play more than 30 games in a season, a milestone he’ll pass this month, barring unforeseen circumstances. He leads the Jets’ balanced scoring attack, which exploded for seven goals just two weeks ago, and could pop again this weekend.
From the net out, the stage is set for two great games in this developing rivalry.
Record: 15-9-2-1 (2nd, Midwest)
Home Record: 5-3-2-0
Goals For/Game: 2.37 (19th)
Goals Against/Game: 2.74 (13th)
Shots For/Game: 26.07 (23rd)
Shots Against/Game: 31.93 (13th)
Power Play: 13.4% (22nd)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (10th)
Top Scorers: F Jack Vincent (26GP—7G-12A—19PTS); F Matt Hanewall (27GP—7G-7A—14PTS); F Mason Salquist (24GP—2G-10A—12PTS)*
Goaltenders: Cole Brady (12-6-1-1; 2.35 GAA; .925 SV%); Sam Metcalf (10-3-4-1; 3.12 GAA; .903 SV%); Garrett Nieto (3-3-0-0; 3.42 GAA; .899 SV%)**
Rostered Commitments: F Nicholas Nardella (Michigan Tech); F Justin Engelkes (Miami); F Erik Bargholtz (Michigan State); G Cole Brady (Arizona State); F Brenden MacLaren (Ferris State); G Garrett Nieto (Union)
* On loan to USHL Fargo
** Injured Reserve
Record: 20-7-0-0 (1st, Midwest)
Road Record: 8-2-0-0
Goals For/Game: 3.00 (7th)
Goals Against/Game: 2.26 (2nd)
Shots For/Game: 30.89 (18th)
Shots Against/Game: 33.00 (15th)
Power Play: 20.3% (10th)
Penalty Kill: 80.3% (15th)
Top Scorers: F Cameron Buhl (27GP—10G-20A—30PTS); F Matthew Stanton (26GP—10G-10A—20PTS); F John Keranen (25GP—9G-10A—19PTS)
Goaltenders: Jack Robbel (8-1-0-0; 1.76 GAA; .949 SV%); Ethan Haider (11-5-0-0; 2.21 GAA; .929 SV%)
Rostered Commitments: G Ethan Haider (Clarkson); F Jackson Jutting (Colorado College); F John Keranen (Army); F Valentino Passarelli (Miami); G Jack Robbel (Lake Superior State)