Players swarm for shot with Jets
One more piece of goaltender padding and it appeared the white Dodge Caliber might burst.
As it was, when Riley Sims and Garrett Nieto opened the hatchback Friday, their makeshift closet found its way onto a grassy space outside the Janesville Ice Arena.
Leg pads and compression shirts laid out neatly over here. A few pairs of socks drying on a curb over there. When nearly 250 young hockey players converge on one ice arena, personal space comes at a premium.
Sims and Nieto were two of nearly 60 goalies hoping to find success at the Janesville Jets’ main camp this week. It marked the unofficial start to the Jets season, a time to select some core pieces of a roster for a team that will play its first game Sept. 16.
Sims and Nieto had already made it through the initial round of cuts after the goalies skated in their own session Wednesday. The rest of the skaters joined for sessions Thursday through Saturday.
“This is a really tough week, especially for the goalies,” Nieto said. “We’ve had three skates already and will have three more, including if you make it into an all-star game. It wears down on your body real fast.”
For prospective players, the pain is worth it, especially if they can catch on with one of the top teams in one of the top junior leagues in the country, giving them an increased chance to play in college.
Moving on up
Cody Colegrove has spent much of his summer on the road.
A sophomore in high school, he said he’s currently on a Tier 3 junior team in the NA3HL, but like many others he’s looking to move up.
“Janesville has their camp pretty late, so I’ve already been to about four of them,” said Colegrove, who drove to Janesville from his home in Michigan this week. “I’m trying to get to the next level and play college hockey. I’d love to play for Janesville, but kids also do this for exposure. I know some Minnesota colleges are here.”
The NAHL has become one of the premier leagues when it comes to advancing to the Division I college level. Roughly 250 players have moved on to college hockey from the league in each of the past two seasons.
And the Jets have built a reputation as one of the league’s top teams for advancing. They had 12 players commit to Division I college programs last season.
A promotion from a Tier 3 junior league to a Tier 2 like the NAHL not only means a better chance of playing in college, but it can also be a break for the pocket book of a player and his family.
While Tier 2 players foot the bill for billet housing, skates and other odds and ends, Jets president Bill McCoshen said, Tier 3 players pay a player fee on top of that. Colegrove said advancing to the Tier 2 level could save him in upwards of $12,000 in fees.
That said, he’s also paying for camps like the one in Janesville this week. He paid $325 for the Jets camp, which helped pay for ice time, officials, a jersey and a bag. This camp was within driving distance, but for others he’s needed to buy a plane ticket.
The expenses and the pressure can start to pile up.
“It is worth it,” Colegrove said of the expenses. “But it (the pressure) is unbearable at times, really. You have coaches speaking to you every time you get off the ice. Before you go to these, you’ve got to make sure it’s something you really want to do.”
A starting point
The Jets have made the playoffs each of the past four seasons. They went to the Robertson Cup semifinals—essentially the final four of the NAHL—in 2015 and again this past season.
The team doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. But if recent history serves, this will be a reloading year.
Currently, just eight players are slated to return from last year’s team, which won the Midwest Division and lost to Lone Star in the league’s semifinals.
That means roughly two goalies and maybe 17 or so position players made it through this week’s camp and will start out on the Jets roster during training camp.
From there, former players currently hoping to stay in the Tier 1 USHL could potentially drop back down to the Jets. And the team can make trades and other roster moves into the early portion of the season.
“This will get us to a starting point, depending on what we get back and trades and things like that,” Jets head coach and general manager Joe Dibble said.
Quite frankly, the odds aren’t exactly in the favor of most of the players who came to town this week. But to them it was clearly worth the chance, as the Jets saw their best camp turnout to date.
Once the main portion of camp began Thursday, players were split into 10 rosters of roughly 20 players apiece. Each team got three sessions between Thursday and Friday to showcase their skills, playing 5-on-5 with a running clock with two 25-minute periods.
From there, Dibble and other talent evaluators sat down to choose teams for a “Young Guns All-Star Game” for the younger prospects and a regular All-Star Game for the older prospects. Players at the camp were born between 1997 and 2001.
Dibble and his assistants selected a Jets training camp roster from there.
Back for more
For Kip Hoffmann, Jets main camp is old hat.
Janesville tendered an offer to Hoffmann after his first camp four years ago, and he’s been a Jet ever since. McCoshen said Hoffmann will be the team’s first four-year player ever.
Though returning Jets players certainly have a leg up when camp opens, they’re not guaranteed a spot.
“Every year you’re a little nervous because it’s a tryout,” said Hoffmann, who enjoyed a great playoff run with the Jets last year that he hopes leads to a Division I offer entering his final year of juniors. “The word tryout gets you a little bit.
“A lot of players come in without an educated brain about why they’re here. There’s a lot more than it’s a Janesville Jets tryout. It’s a man’s game, and you’ve got little kids out there. They get a bit of a surprise.
“I knew what to expect (four years ago). But I’ve always been a bigger guy, so that helps.”
Hoffman led all NAHL players in points in the playoffs. He scored nine goals and had four assists in nine postseason games.
But coming up just short of playing for or winning the Robertson Cup for the first time in Jets history still weighs on him.
“I’m still a little bitter,” Hoffmann said. “At the end of the day, it happens. It’s hockey. It was pretty awesome to be there representing the Janesville Jets ... but still bitter.
“Maybe this is the year. This is going to be a good team.”
Wearing many hats
As the president and part owner of the Jets in the Wisconsin Hockey Partners group, McCoshen is no stranger to the team’s main camp.
But he saw it from a different angle this year. His son, Cale, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward, tried out for the first time.
“This is my first time as a dad. My oldest son could have tried out our first year we had the Jets, but he decided he wanted to go to college,” McCoshen said Thursday night. “This is something Cale really wants to do, and I told him he has to earn it. It’s up to him.”
Cale McCoshen said he went to USHL tryouts in Dubuque, Iowa, and Madison.
“It’s weird, because you don’t know anyone,” he said. “At the same time, that means you can just go play. Here, though, I know almost everyone.”
Bill McCoshen said the role is much different, and tougher, as a father at a camp.
“You try and keep your kid in good spirits between games when they’re having their highs and lows,” he said. “You want to be supportive and tell them what they did wrong and how to get prepared.”
Nieto and Sims agreed that striking a balance at tryouts is necessary.
A player must play to his own strengths and hope they stand out to evaluators. If a player strays from what he does best, he might get noticed but for the wrong reasons.
“You don’t try to change anything up and don’t try to showboat,” said Nieto, a 19-year-old who spent most of the last two seasons in the British Columbia Hockey League. “If you do that, that’s where you’ll make mistakes. You do what you do and worry about yourself and you should be fine.”
“You can’t overthink it,” Sims added. “It’s just hockey, and you’ve got to have fun.”
The two goalie prospects said this camp, despite making for a long week, is fun because of Jets goalie coach Larry Clemens.
Over the past few seasons, Clemens helped the Jets land and train successful goalies like Matt Jurusik, currently at Wisconsin, and Jack LaFontaine, an NHL draft pick from a year ago.
This week, Clemens opened his Sun Prairie home to as many as 10 goalies, whether they were around for Clemens’ summer-long camp he runs or for the Jets camp. Sims and Nieto stayed there and hustled back and forth to Janesville in the chock-full Caliber.
“To make the team, and even if you don’t, get noticed and get on their radar,” Nieto said of his goals coming into the week. “To see what Larry was able to do with other guys and see what other guys who have played for Janesville have gone on to accomplish is pretty amazing.”
Last updated: 11:41 pm Sunday, July 9, 2017