Jets hope to pick up where they left off

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Eric Schmoldt
Friday, December 27, 2013

JANESVILLE--When the Janesville Jets first saw their North American Hockey League schedule, they were thrilled.

Almost right at the midpoint of their 60-game season, they’d get a weekend off during the holidays. It would provide a nice break to rejuvenate for the stretch run of a taxing year.

Alas, when that hiatus came nearly two weeks ago, the Jets were in the middle of their hottest stretch of play this year. They have won three straight games and six of their last seven, a streak that they hope survived that break as they return to the ice tonight at Coulee Region.

“When you get on a streak like that, you obviously want to ride it out as long as you can,” Jets coach Joe Dibble said as the team returned to the Janesville Ice Arena for its first formal practice in more than a week on Thursday. “At the same point, as long as the season is in this league, it’s nice to get those breaks.

“And you want guys to go home in a good mood.”

Most of the players got out of town for the break. Many of them traveled across the country or globe to see family, a rare opportunity for many junior hockey players.

Last year, the Jets had no such break, getting just four days off around the holidays.

Team captain Mike Sullivan said the team welcomed the time off, though hockey remained on many of his teammates’ minds.

“We went on a 10-day break, and we have a routine where we all keep in touch and the captains let everyone know what’s going on every day,” he said. “I think my phone rang about 100 times. We went home to enjoy the break and our family, but we’re a close family here.”

The Jets will officially hit the halfway point in their season after tonight’s game.

They’re 14-14-1 and in last place in the NAHL North, but most of the teams above them have played more games. And few teams in the league are as hot as Janesville was before the break.

“It took us longer than we thought to bear together and buy in,” Sullivan said. “Now everyone’s competing, working hard, and everyone has some chemistry.

“You don’t change anything when you come back, just keep doing the same stuff we’ve done the last month before we left—keep it going.”

Janesville trails Springfield by one point and Soo, which already has 33 games completed, by just three.

The Jets will also spend most of the second half of their season playing against division foes, leaving plenty of room for movement in the standings. The top four teams in the division at the end of the regular season make the NAHL playoffs.

“The biggest thing is just the team aspect, not individual parts,” Dibble said. “We know we have to be better in our special teams and defensive zone. We know we’re giving up too many shots right now, and it’s something where we’re making a couple adjustments.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing to keep this thing going is just to keep having fun.”

Perhaps the break could have come at a better moment.

But rested and rejuvenated, the Jets are ready for the playoff push.

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