Janesville Jets conduct summer tryouts
JANESVILLE—Joe Pavelski still remembers the nervous feeling of walking into a junior hockey rink for his first tryout camp.
Long before he became one of the NHL’s leading scorers—and before his national-title-winning career at the University of Wisconsin—Pavelski had a tryout in the United States Hockey League.
So he knew just how players at the Janesville Ice Arena were feeling this week as they took part in the Jets’ main camp.
“This is the first hockey I’ve watched since the playoffs,” Pavelski said during a break in the 12 hours of action at the arena Wednesday. “It’s always fun to be back in these junior rinks. It brings you right back to about 10 years ago when I was just leaving the junior leagues.
“You remember the emotions going in, when you’re in a camp with a lot of really good players and you’re trying to make a team.”
Pavelski, who has a stake in Wisconsin Hockey Partners, the Jets’ ownership group, is coming off a season with the San Jose Sharks in which he scored 41 goals and had 79 points in 81 games. The Sharks went 51-22-9 but lost to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs.
Prior to attending Wisconsin in 2004-06, he played for Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks of the USHL.
“That first camp you have all the jitters, and you don’t know if you’re good enough, if you’re going to make the team or what the deal’s going to be,” Pavelski said. “I’m sure these kids are feeling the same thing.”
Players from eight different countries and approximately half of the states in the U.S. converged on Janesville for the week-long camp.
It began with 226 players on 10 different squads, and that group was whittled down to four teams by Thursday. By the end of the weekend, head coach Joe Dibble and the Jets will have the framework set for their 2014-15 roster. Training camp begins next month.
“We’ll pick the final 25 guys out of that 226 to make the final Jets team,” Dibble said. “With the amount of placement and advancement we’ve had here in the past couple years, to Division I and the USHL, it’s become a destination. A lot of family advisers, Division I coaches and USHL coaches have started to push kids our direction.”
The Jets sent players to Division I programs Wisconsin and Minnesota this past season, among several others.
Dibble said players from the camp sold out three hotels in Janesville this week. The camp includes some returning Jets players, the team’s draft picks, tendered players and some mere hopefuls looking to turn heads and earn a chance.
“You’re building a puzzle, so you have your pieces that return to your team from the year before,” Dibble said. “Then you have your draft picks and tenders and other pieces, but you can’t complete that puzzle because of kids that left to go to college or made USHL teams.”
The camp served as somewhat of an unofficial start to what is a crucial season for the Jets’ future in Janesville.
In February, the city council approved the the team’s request for a one-year lease of the ice arena. That decision came at the end of an initial five-year deal that began when the Jets took root in 2009. The council also approved a decrease of more than $7,000 in fees paid to the city.
The partners hope to increase paid attendance and make the franchise a viable long-term entity in the city. WHP President Bill McCoshen said in February the partners’ main objective was never to make a major profit, but the group needs the franchise to at least break even.
Pavelski said he joined the partnership in part to give back to junior hockey, which helped launch his career, as well as bring another team into the fold in his home state. Pavelski grew up in Plover and now lives with his wife, Sarah, and their son near Madison.
“It just gives players another opportunity to be seen and follow their dreams,” Pavelski said.
In terms of the financials, Pavelski said he leaves most of the specifics up to McCoshen and company.
“There’s guys that are much more qualified and put in much more time than me on that side of things,” Pavelski said. “They do a tremendous job. It was great of the city to allow us (to have the one-year lease).
“As an organization, we’ve taken steps each year to make things more successful in the city of Janesville.
“It’s a big year, but you see this week how the camp has grown. To see it grow and see the hotels and restaurants filling up, it’s encouraging. And it’s encouraging to see the team move so many young kids up the ranks this last year and see the rewards.”