JANESVILLE, WI— For Jakov Novak, Sam Renlund, Daniel Lebedeff, Brenden MacLaren, Erik Palmqvist, Alec Semandel, Garrett Nieto, and Gary Shuchuk, it was five games in five days with nearly 1,200 miles on the bus.
It started in Plymouth, Michigan, where Novak, Renlund, and Lebedeff skated for the NAHL Selects White team at the 2018 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. The rest played for the champion Midwest Division team. Novak led all scorers at the tournament with three goals and four points.
Then it was a bus back to Janesville, where they met the Coulee Region Chill for a Thursday night special. The Jets downed the Chill, 6-4.
Friday afternoon was another bus, this time to Springfield, Illinois, for a proper two-game set against the Jr. Blues. The Jets took three of four possible points in a sweep, losing 1-0 in overtime on Friday and rolling on Saturday to a 6-3.
“That was a lot of hockey,” said Novak. “It’s pretty tough on the mind and the body. I definitely felt it and had to think a bit more in those games, especially just being aware of my shifts and trying to keep them short in the third periods of those last two games in Springfield. I needed a full ‘R&R’ day Sunday and spent a couple hours in the hot tub. Then some yoga on Monday helped, too.”
Novak scored in four of the five games he played last week between NAHL Selects White at the Top Prospects Tournament and the Jets’ regular games. His weekend points inched him to within one point of tying the Jets’ career single-season scoring mark of 61 points, set in 2014-15 by Zach Lavalle, now of the Miami University Redhawks.
“That would mean a lot,” Novak said of the possibility of becoming the Jets’ single-season scoring champion, but he deflected a lot of his success to his teammates. “When you’re winning and playing well as a team, individuals start getting milestones and accomplishments, too. That would be an honor.”
A long week of hockey and travel behind them, the Jets can now…pack their bags for the longest road trip of the season.
Tuesday, February 27: Midwest 5, NAHL Selects Red 1
Shots: Midwest 32, Selects Red 22
The Jets’ participation in the 2018 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament began Tuesday afternoon with Nieto backstopping the Midwest Division team against a young but talented Selects Red squad. Skaters Alec Semandel, Erik Palmqvist, and Brenden MacLaren were held off the scoresheet, but the Californian netminder dazzled, stopping 19 of 19 before finally seeing his shutout bid close with just 12 seconds left on the clock. Nieto’s 19/20 performance earned Team Midwest the win.
Tuesday, February 27: Central 2, NAHL Selects White 1
Shots: Central 26, Selects White 34
The NHL’s Central Scouting department selected two teams, White and Red, of draft-eligible NAHL players to compete in the Top Prospects Tournament. Novak, Renlund, and Lebedeff took their first ice of the event Tuesday evening against the Central Division. Springfield’s Jurja Ovecka opened the game in net for Selects White, and played the first 30 minutes, allowing one goal on 10 shots. Shortly after, Novak and Renlund connected for the equalizer in the second.
Lebedeff saw more traffic than Ovecka in his half of the game, stopping 15 of 16 shots. Doug Larson’s third period goal won the game for the Central Division, but all three Jets had great showings for Selects White.
Wednesday, February 28: Central 1, Midwest 4
Shots: Central 17, Midwest 32
Former Jet Ethan Stewart scored twice for the Midwest Division in its 4-1 victory over the Central on Wednesday. Josh Benson started over Garrett Nieto, and Alec Semandel registered a +1 mark.
Wednesday, February 28: NAHL Selects White 4, East 6
Shots: Selects White 20, East 37
Despite another good showing from Daniel Lebedeff, who opened the game with 19 saves on 21 shots in his 30 minutes of action, a four-goal third period from the East Division sank the Selects White team on Wednesday. While they didn’t earn the team victory, the Jets’ representatives again showed why they earned the call to Plymouth, each bumping their draft stock and turning some heads.
Sam Renlund got things going for Selects White, answering an early goal from the East Division.
After another call-and-response in the middle of the period, Jakov Novak ended a high-scoring first with his second of the tournament.
He added on in the second.
Novak’s third goal and fourth point of the tournament each led all skaters, and Renlund’s three points tied five others for second in tournament scoring. Nieto (19/20, .950%) and Lebedeff (34/37, .919%) placed fourth and sixth respectively in tournament save percentage.
Thursday, March 1: Coulee Region Chill 4, Janesville Jets 6
Shots: Chill 27, Jets 43
PP: Chill 2-3, Jets 0-2
Back together after the tournament, the Jets exploded Thursday night for four goals in the opening 8:10 of action against their in-state rivals, the Coulee Region Chill. A packed house, nearly half comprised of students and families from the Jets’ BMO Harris Reading Club Program, brought the noise and the home-ice advantage for Janesville, which surrendered three straight third period goals, but held off the Chill in the third period for the victory.
Opening things for Janesville was alternate captain TJ Polglaze (3:16 1st).
Another veteran, defenseman Carter Ekberg (4:25 1st), quickly doubled the Jets’ lead.
Kip Hoffmann (7:59 1st), who turned 21 this Monday, popped off the wall and fired home the game’s third goal.
The crowd of 768 barely had time to return to its feet before Benji Eckerle (8:10 1st) sounded the goal horn again.
Eckerle’s goal ended the night for Emil Zetterquist, who finished with five saves on nine shots, bringing Josh Graziano in relief duty. The Jets pressed more late in the first, but Graziano held strong.
The second period was all Coulee Region, as Ryan Egan’s Chill answered back with three goals, spaced well apart. First it was Colin Price (3:52 2nd) sniping a short-side goal on the power play. Later, Gavin Holland (11:06 2nd) converted a quick jam play to cut the lead in half. At the end of the period, it was again Gavin Holland (17:15 2nd) lighting the lamp for Coulee Region, this time short-handed, to bring the Chill to within one.
The game stayed at a one-goal difference for about 11 minutes of play until Jakov Novak (11:31 3rd) scored the eventual game-winner.
Colin Price (13:43 3rd) joined Holland with his second goal of the game, a near replica of his first, scoring short side on the man-advantage. With Graziano pulled for the extra attacker, Simon Sagissor and Matt Hanewall (19:31 3rd) teamed up for the insurance goal.
Garrett Nieto (18-4-1-1) earned the win for Janesville, turning aside 23 of 27 shots from Coulee Region. After relieving Emil Zetterquist, Josh Graziano (3-10-1-1) was stellar, making 32 saves on 33 shots, but took the loss as his team mounted but did not complete the comeback.
Friday, March 2: Janesville Jets 0, Springfield Jr. Blues 1 (OT)
Shots: Jets 30, Jr. Blues 41
PP: Jets 0-2, Jr. Blues 0-3
After disposing of the Chill on Thursday, the Jets bused down to Springfield, Illinois, on Friday, for a pair with the Jr. Blues. Janesville lost the tight-checking opener, 1-0, in overtime.
Fans at the Nelson were treated to a goaltending duel between Daniel Lebedeff and Evan Fear, who were each perfect in regulation. Lebedeff was 35/35 through 60, and Fear was 29/29. Less than four minutes in, it was Jordan Muzzillo (3:38 OT) playing overtime hero for the Jr. Blues.
Lebedeff (13-6-3-1) finished 40/41 in the losing net after a busy overtime period, opposite Fear (12-11-3-0), who sewed up the shutout with a 30-save performance.
Saturday, March 3: Janesville Jets 6, Springfield Jr. Blues 3
Shots: Jets 46, Jr. Blues 31
PP: Jets 0-3, Jr. Blues 1-2
For the second time in four games, the Jets responded to a shutout effort with a six-goal explosion, again clicking four times in the opening period of Saturday’s game en route to a 6-3 victory over the Springfield Jr. Blues, closing the three-game weekend with five of a possible six points.
Each team rewarded its Friday netminder with the nod again Saturday. Early in the first, Erik Palmqvist opened some space in the high slot, putting a puck on net which Sam Renlund (2:05 1st) directed past Fear.
Three minutes later, TJ Polglaze (5:05 1st) tapped in a pass from Matt Hanewall for his first of a multi-goal game.
Just two minutes later, Benji Eckerle (7:01 1st) drove wide on Fear and snuck in his sixth of the season. Eckerle’s goal forced Springfield to burn its timeout just seven minutes into the game.
After former Jet Brandon Puricelli (11:33 1st) got one back for Springfield, Kip Hoffmann (12:53 1st) answered with his career-high 20th goal of the season. Hoffmann’s goal chased Fear, who was replaced by Jurja Ovecka after making 10 saves on 14 shots.
Springfield’s Spencer DenBeste (16:12 1st) scored on the power play a few minutes later, capping off a wild six-goal opening frame.
In the second, the Jets again let their foot off the gas pedal when Estonian forward Nikita Kozyrev (5:17 2nd) brought his Jr. Blues to within one. The match hung at 4-3 for the middle part of the period, until TJ Polglaze (14:00 2nd) clicked with Simon Sagissor on a shorthanded chance to regain the two-goal lead.
Icing the game for Janesville on Saturday was Jakov Novak (18:10 3rd), collecting his league-leading 60th point in the process.
Daniel Lebedeff (14-6-3-1) stopped 28 of Springfield’s 31 shots on net in the winning effort. Jurja Ovecka made 30 saves on 31 shots in relief effort, earning no decision after Evan Fear‘s (13-11-3-0) night ended with a loss and 12:53 TOI.
Midwest Division Recap
After Thursday’s game, the Coulee Region Chill went back to La Crosse for a home-and-home with the Minnesota Magicians. Each home team earned an overtime win, giving the Chill a three-point weekend and keeping them alive in the tightening playoff race. Now 13 points behind the 4th-place Springfield Jr. Blues, who join the Jets with a ten-day trip to Alaska. In Louisiana, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs beat the Shreveport Mudbugs, 3-2, on Friday, extending their win streak to 24 straight. It ended there with a 2-1 shootout loss on Saturday, which earned the Ice Dogs a point in the standings and kept their 33-game point streak alive. The Kenai River Brown Bears needed a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, but were swept, 3-1 and 5-0, against the Lone Star Brahmas in North Richland Hills, Texas.
This weekend, the Jets can clinch 2nd place in the Midwest Division with a sweep of the Brown Bears and a Coulee Region Chill victory over the Minnesota Magicians on Friday. A single point on Friday would clinch the division title for Fairbanks.
Midwest Division Standings
|1||x – Fairbanks Ice Dogs||50||39-5-3-3||84|
|2||x – Janesville Jets||48||32-10-4-2||70|
|4||Springfield Jr. Blues||50||24-20-5-1||54|
|5||Coulee Region Chill||51||16-26-4-5||41|
|6||e – Kenai River Brown Bears||50||15-32-1-2||33|
Friday, Mar 9: Janesville Jets @ Kenai River Brown Bears — 10:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, Mar 10: Janesville Jets @ Kenai River Brown Bears — 10:30 p.m. CT
The Jets fly to Alaska on Wednesday, where they will first play a weekend series in Soldotna against the Kenai River Brown Bears before traveling north to Fairbanks next weekend. The Brown Bears are 3-0 in their last three home games, but will have to play a spoiler role against Janesville after being eliminated last weekend from playoff contention. Kenai River is led offensively by blueliner Cameron McDonald, who totals 33 points (32 of them assists), and by forward Gil Garcia with 20 goals on 32 points. Gavin Enright has played 33 of Kenai River’s 50 games, registering an .895 save percentage against a 3.80 goals against average.