JANESVILLE, WI— The Jets extended a point streak to four games with a 4-1 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday, but fell to the Springfield Jr. Blues by the same score on Saturday to enter the holiday break with a 17-8-2-0 record, solidly in second place in the Midwest Division.
The Jets’ Weekend of Giving promotion featured a $1,000+ donation to the School District of Janesville’s Bags of Hope program for Friday’s attendance, and collected nearly 400 stuffed animals for children in need on Saturday’s Teddy Bear Toss.
On the hockey side, even a split might have been a “we’ll take it” scenario for the Jets’ coaching staff, who iced eleven forwards on Saturday as an illness ran its way through an already banged-up roster. Matt Barbolini and Jakov Novak each played on Friday but weren’t in game shape on Saturday. Sam Renlund, who did play versus Springfield, was a game-time decision. His status wasn’t confirmed until after warm-ups.
The bug began Monday when half of the team reported varying levels of sickness to athletic trainer Kathy Calkins. In that light, it seems fortunate that Janesville lost just two man games to illness last weekend.
So how well-received is this 17-day break?
“It’s gonna be huge for us,” said assistant coach Corey Leivermann. “It kind of couldn’t have happened at a better time. We’ll get some guys back pretty soon. Brenden MacLaren will stay in Janesville for a bit to skate and test out the knee so we anticipate adding him shortly after the break. Any time you can get a top-six guy back that’s a huge win for the team.”
Regan Cavanagh, who broke his collarbone in October, could also return in the second half of the season.
Captain Kip Hoffmann went home to Huntley, IL, after the series, and said he was happy for rookie teammates have the same privilege.
“This is the youngest team we’ve ever had, and for a lot of our rookies it’s going to be really good to get home and see family for a couple weeks,” he said. “Especially with guys like Matt Barbolini and Matt Doyle, coming here all the way from New York. I remember being a first or second year guy here and how much it helped to see friends and family and get a little mental rest. I know we’ll all be itching to return back and see the boys again in a couple weeks so that energy will be high again soon.”
The Janesville Jets (17-7-2-0) gave up a goal on their first penalty kill of the night, and for a moment it looked like the Kenai River Brown Bears and their fourth-ranked power play would control the night. The Jets survived the rest of the period, highlighted by three successful penalty kills, and turned the pressure up. Shots poured on goaltender Gavin Enright and the Jets came away with a 4-1 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears (9-17-1-0).
In the first period, with defenseman Alec Semandel serving a roughing minor, Zach Krajnik wired a pass across the slot to Sacha Guillemain (4:40 1st), who put a one-timer past Daniel Lebedeff. Five more minor penalties would be called in the period, and the opening frame didn’t once see four consecutive minutes of five-on-five play. The Jets killed a minor less than a minute after surrendering the opener, but a tripping call to Matt Barbolini canceled out their first man advantage. Later, the same thing happened to Kenai River when Cameron McDonald was assessed a holding penalty with his Brown Bears on the power play.
The Jets were held without a shot for the first six minutes of the second period, but finally found a groove and began mounting the pressure. Jordan Steinmetz (9:18 2nd) scored in his third straight game, wristing home a shot off a long scrum in the right faceoff circle. A minute and a half later, Kip Hoffmann set up behind the net, found Erik Palmqvist for a one-timer, but the Swedish winger’s stick broke on the shot, fortuitously sending the puck straight to Jakov Novak (10:48 2nd), who was camped out all alone on the back door.
The Jets got their insurance marker when Kip Hoffmann (7:29 3rd) put an innocuous wrist shot on Enright from the high slot. The puck trickled through and into the net to double the Jets’ lead. With the net empty and Kenai River pressing, Kip Hoffmann (19:59 3rd) got on his horse and collected a cleared puck next to the cage to tuck in his 99th career point with a second remaining.
Daniel Lebedeff (9-5-2-0) put in another spectacular night’s work, stopping 28 of 29 shots and blanked the Brown Bears in the game’s final 55 minutes for the win. Gavin Enright(5-9-1-0) registered the loss in practically an inverse affair, finally beaten midway through the second period. Enright finished with 32 saves on 35 shots.
Defenseman Carter Ekberg got the teddy bears going in the first period, but ultimately an illness- and injury-ridden lineup for the Janesville Jets (17-8-2-0) ran out of steam, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Springfield Jr. Blues (15-10-1-1) in the final game before the holiday break.
Though the Jets had big centers Jakov Novak and Matt Barbolini out to illness and several skaters playing sick, in goal they had some good news. Garrett Nieto made his first start since November 18 in Brookings, and this time finished the contest against his former team, giving Daniel Lebedeff a much-needed night off. Nieto was perfect in the opening frame as shots rained down on each goaltender. Fans eagerly clutched their teddy bears and stuffed animals in the stands, waiting to toss them onto the ice following the Jets’ first goal. Defenseman Carter Ekberg (9:25 1st) obliged the crowd, stepping up on a loose puck following an offensive zone draw and roofing his fourth of the season.
The Jr. Blues answered in the second period, scoring a short-handed marker when Giovanni Carabelli (9:24 2nd) intercepted a pass from Garrett Nieto at the blue line, threw a shot on, and followed up his leaking rebound without a Jets jersey anywhere near him. Later in the period, Casey Fitzjerrells (14:05 2nd) sniped one far side on the rush to put the Jr. Blues ahead. Goaltender Evan Fear was perfect for Springfield in the middle frame, stopping all 18 shots his way.
In the third, Patrick Smyth (7:13 3rd) collected a puck off a draw and put a turn-around shot on Nieto, who went to stick it away into the corner but accidentally put it into his own net. The 3-1 deficit was too much for Janesville, and Springfield collected an empty-netter from Nikita Kozyrev (18:38 3rd) to seal it.
Evan Fear (6-3-1-0) picked up his third straight win in a busy 39-save effort. Returning from injury, Garrett Nieto (8-3-0-0) made some solid saves but a couple of misplays cost him. Nieto finished with 35 saves on 38 shots.
Midwest Division Recap
It was an all-division weekend featuring seven total games between Midwest clubs, none decided in overtime or the shootout. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs held their ground at the top of the division with an offensive explosion in Richfield, sweeping the Minnesota Magicians, 4-1 and 8-3. Before winning Saturday in Janesville, the Springfield Jr. Blues split a pair of 5-3 contests at home versus the Coulee Region Chill. After losing Friday, the Kenai River Brown Bears traveled northwest to La Crosse, where they beat the Chill, 4-3, to jump over Coulee Region for 5th place.
Midwest Division Standings:
|1||Fairbanks Ice Dogs||17-5-3-2||39|
|3||Springfield Jr. Blues||15-10-1-1||32|
|5||Kenai River Brown Bears||10-17-1-0||21|
|6||Coulee Region Chill||7-13-1-5||20|
The Jets will enjoy some much-needed time off now, picking up a full week’s rest more than their Midwest opponents will receive. While Jets players and coaches rest up with family and friends, the Chill host the Ice Dogs, the Magicians host the Brown Bears, and the Jr. Blues play a home-and-home with the Topeka RoadRunners.
The Jets return to action in Janesville on Thursday, December 28 for Free Kids Night presented by Rock Road Companies.