Jets players, coaches hope to use last season as springboard
JANESVILLE—At 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Mike Sullivan couldn’t help but feel like a boy among men early on during his first NAHL season.
He wasn’t the only 17-year-old getting his junior-college skates wet with the Janesville Jets. Perhaps no team in the league had a younger roster, and it took time for the group to jell.
“It was a learning year,” said Sullivan, Janesville’s captain heading into the season, which begins Wednesday. “Playing junior hockey, it’s a big change. I came from U16, so I was probably one of the youngest guys on the team last year, and I’m not the biggest guy in the world.
“Playing against 20-year-olds that are big and strong and have played in the league, it was a learning opportunity.”
One year later, the Jets hope they can teach the league a thing or two.
Second-year coach Joe Dibble brings back two handfuls of players from last year’s roster, but he was able to sprinkle in other veteran junior hockey players as well as rookies who have tasted success at younger levels.
“We built with high-end youth and a lot of depth in our roster,” Dibble said. “We recruited kids from high school hockey that won state championships. The midget kids we recruited were from national-championship midget teams or one of the best AAA teams in the country. The veterans we went after all played on top-notch junior teams.
“Our motto is play like champions at all times.”
Among the faces that Jets fans will recognize at the Jets’ regular-season home-opener on Sept. 27 is Todd Koritzinsky. He had seven goals and 20 points in 20 games last year after coming to the Jets at the trade deadline.
Sullivan didn’t put up eye-opening numbers but proved to be a key leader both on and off the ice. He and Jordan Himley—who also returns, bringing back 15 goals and 11 assists—each played 57 games a year ago, good for second on the team.
And Austin Priebe, who recently committed to play for Air Force next season, is back between the pipes. He went 6-8-3 last season with a 2.93 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
“He is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and you just don’t come across those goaltenders very often,” Dibble said. “We’re excited about having him just relax and play.”
Dibble is excited about a new crop of players up front, including 20-year-old Robin Hoglund.
“He’s got a really heavy shot, where he’s going to score some goals in our rink,” Dibble said of the Swedish-born player. “And he plays physical.”
Tyler Rehm brings size at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.
“We’ve got four or five lines deep of skill,” said first-year forward Elliot Tisdaley. “We’ve got all the right guys in place, and our work ethic, from what I’ve seen so far, is good. That’s what you need to back up the skill. I’m really looking forward to seeing where we can go.
On defense, Dibble expects big things out of 5-foot-10, 177-pound Carson Vance.
“He’s going to be a pretty big-time player in our league this year,” he said. “I’m excited about our whole team; it’s going to be fun to watch this year.”
With size and experience on their side, expect to see the Jets play a little different style this year.
The Jets have seven players that are at least 6-foot-1.
“I think the tables will be turned,” Dibble said. “It’ll be a fun style to watch, a dump-dash-and-bash style of hockey.”
It’s a style that the Jets hope will take them from finishing just outside of the NAHL playoffs last season to contending for a league title.
“To go all the way to the Robbie,” Sullivan said of the team’s goal, referring to the championship series for the Robertson Cup. “We have the skill set, we have the hockey IQ and we work hard.”