Wareham's decision to stick with Jets leads to DI commitment
When Blake Wareham first arrived in Janesville, there were almost certainly times when he wanted to walk away and head somewhere else.
Now nearing the end of his second season with the North American Hockey League's Jets, he's the poster child for sticking with the program.
Wareham gave a verbal commitment to play Division I college hockey at Canisius last week, giving hope to every first-year NAHL player who goes through an adjustment period when they first arrive.
“Without the Jets, I don't know if I have this commitment,” Wareham said in a Jets release. “When I first got here, I wasn't playing a lot, and [head] coach [Joe] Dibble told me to trust the process. Once I got used to the faster speed and the bigger bodies, that's when I started playing my game.”
Wareham's status for this week's Friday-Saturday home series against Kenai River at the Janesville Ice Arena is up in the air due to an illness.
But he has proven himself a quality defenseman for the first-place Jets. He's carrying a plus-18 rating through 46 games this season.
“When he first got here last year, he expected—like most kids do—that it's going to be just like midget hockey, where they've been the best kid on the team and he was just going to be one of the best kids in junior hockey, too,” Dibble said. “I don't think he was used to not being in the lineup or not playing on the power play and penalty kill.
“A lot of kids come in and get a dose of reality.”
Wareham doesn't have gaudy stats, with two goals and 13 assists. But Dibble said he's the kind of defenseman that goes pleasantly unnoticed because he breaks up plays and consistently does his job.
And in his second year, Wareham has become a leader to first-year players that, like he did, need time to adjust to a faster game.
“We have a few of those guys, and Blake is a guy that they go to,” Dibble said. “He went through it, and it matures you. The same thing will happen in college. There will be an adjustment phase. But once you get comfortable, you start to become a bigger piece to the puzzle.”
The distractions have piled up for the Jets this week.
Illness and injury continue to take their toll. Kenai River, with just 10 victories through 46 games, is coming to town. A weeklong break comes next week for most players with the Top Prospects tournament taking place. And it's been 60 and 70 degrees outside.
Dibble said his team needs to remain focused on the two home games, which begin at 7 p.m. each night.
“We don't take anybody for granted,” Dibble said. “The team we had a couple years ago that went 49-9-2, that year Kenai River had three wins all year, and we gave them their first one.
“We just have to stay focused on keeping practices exciting and different.”