Janesville Jets set for NAHL playoffs
JANESVILLE--Alex Smith wasn’t sure what to expect when he first arrived in Janesville.
Smith, a veteran defenseman of the United States Hockey League, was traded to the North American Hockey League’s Jets during the first weekend in January.
Janesville was coming off the hottest December run in the league, but the Jets lost six games to open the 2014 portion of their schedule.
At that point, the playoffs looked far-fetched. Three months later, however, and Smith is headed back home to open a postseason series. The Brownsville, Mich., native will play about 75 minutes up the road when the Jets open a first-round playoff series with the Michigan Warriors on Friday night.
“My mom and dad, aunt and uncle, cousins, my girlfriend will be there, so it’ll be nice to have a little crowd,” Smith said after a practice Wednesday at the Janesville Ice Arena. “It’s going to be a great experience. Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd here from Janesville and my family can bring a little help, too.”
Smith has the unique experience of being around for the Jets’ lowest point this season (when they won twice in 10 games from Jan. 1 through Feb. 1) as well as their highest point (when they won 10 of their final 12 to finish third in the NAHL North).
“I think it was just us having fun and believing in ourselves,” Smith said. “Not listening to what other people are having to say, and just be there for each other.”
Jets head coach Joe Dibble said Smith has been an integral part to the late-season run.
The 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman has 13 points in his 25 games with the Jets. He scored twice in a 6-3 victory over Michigan on March 14.
“His stock has done nothing but go up and up and up since the time he got here,” Dibble said. “He’s a big piece to this puzzle, and without him here we might not be where we’re at.
“He’s done a little bit of everything. He’s on one of our power plays, he kills penalties, five-on-five. He moves pucks and skates well. He’s in every situation that you can possibly have.”
Janesville has been a good stop in Smith’s mind, too, as he spent this season battling his way back from an offseason shoulder surgery.
“It just so happened that I had a stop here, and it’s been a great experience,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ll be coming back next year and hopefully I’ll be even better.”