Top Jets pick needs to impress
(Home games at 7 p.m. at Janesville Ice Skating Center, unless noted)
Sat. Sept. 5: Dubuque Thunderbirds (exhibition game)
Wed., Sept 9: At Dubuque Thunderbirds (exhibition game
Sat., Sept. 12: Traverse City North Stars
Sun., Sept. 13: Traverse City North Stars (2 p.m.)
Wed., Sept. 16: Owatanna Express, 1:45 p.m. (NAHL Showcase, Blaine, Minn.)
Thurs., Sept. 17: Topeka Roadrunners, 7:15 p.m. (NAHL Showcase, Blaine, Minn.)
Fri., Sept. 18: Alexandria Blizzard, 5 p.m. (NAHL Showcase, Blaine, Minn.)
Sat., Sept. 19: Wichita Falls Wildcats, 3:30 p.m. (NAHL Showcase, Blaine, Minn.)
Fri., Oct. 2: At Springfield Junior Blues
Sat., Oct. 3: At Springfield Junior Blues
Sun., Oct. 4: At Springfield Junior Blues
Fri., Oct. 9: Springfield Junior Blues
Sat., Oct. 10: Springfield Junior Blues
Fri., Oct. 16: At Traverse City North Stars
Sat., Oct. 17: At Traverse City North Stars
Fri., Oct. 23: Alpena IceDiggers
Sat., Oct. 24: Alpena Ice Diggers
Fri., Oct. 30: Marquette Rangers
Sat., Oct. 31: Marquette Rangers
Fri., Nov. 6: At Marquette Rangers
Sat., Nov. 7: At Marquette Rangers
Fri., Nov. 13: Traverse City North Stars
Sat., Nov. 14: Traverse City North Stars
Fri., Nov. 20: Motor City Metal Jackets
Sat., Nov. 21: Motor City Metal Jackets
Thurs., Dec. 3: At Motor City Metal Jackets
Fri., Dec. 4: At Motor City Metal Jackets
Sat., Dec. 5: At Motor City Metal Jackets
Fri., Dec. 11: Motor City Metal Jackets
Sat., Dec. 12: Motor City Metal Jackets
Fri., Dec. 18: Traverse City North Stars
Sat., Dec. 19: Traverse City North Stars
Sat., Jan. 2: At Alpena IceDiggers
Sun., Jan. 3: At Alpena IceDiggers
Fri., Jan. 8: At St. Louis Bandits
Sat., Jan. 9: At St. Louis Bandits
Fri., Jan. 15: Motor City Metal Jackets
Sat., Jan. 16: Motor City Metal Jackets
Fri., Jan. 22: At Albert Lea Thunder
Sat., Jan. 23: At Albert Lea Thunder
Fri., Jan. 29: Marquette Rangers
Sat., Jan. 30: Marquette Rangers
Fri., Feb. 5: Alpena IceDiggers
Sat., Feb. 6: Alpena IceDiggers
Sun., Feb. 7: Alpena IceDiggers (2 p.m.)
Fri., Feb. 12: At Alpena IceDiggers
Sat., Feb. 13: At Alpena IceDiggers
Fri., Feb. 19: At Marquette Rangers
Sat., Feb. 20: At Traverse City North Stars
Sun. Feb. 21: At Traverse City North Stars
Fri., Feb. 26: Springfield Junior Blues
Sat., Feb. 27: Springfield Junior Blues
Fri., March 5: At Motor City Metal Jackets
Sat., March 6: At Motor City Metal Jackets
Fri., March 12: Marquette Rangers
Sat., March 13: Marquette Rangers
Fri., March 19: At Springfield Junior Blues
Sat., March 20: At Springfield Junior Blues
Fri., March 26: At Marquette Rangers
Sat., March 27: At Marquette Rangers
JANESVILLE Matt Wichorek knows this is his last chance.
The 20-year-old goaltender, chosen by the Janesville Jets with the team’s first selection of the NAHL draft, has one season of junior hockey eligibility to catch the eye of a college program and keep his dreams alive.
His effort begins Saturday when the Jets play their inaugural exhibition game, hosting the Dubuque Thunderbirds at 7 p.m. at the Janesville Ice Skating Center.
“This is my last year. Hopefully, I can give it one last shot,” Wichorek said. “I’m glad I got a team that wants me. I’m glad to be given this opportunity.”
Like many of the players at the junior level, Wichorek’s career can be described as that of a vagabond.
He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, dominating youth leagues and idolizing legendary NHL goaltender Patrick Roy. Wichorek moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., for his senior year of high school to play for a Triple A midget team.
What followed were brief stints with the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits, the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the NAHL’s Kenai River Brown Bears and then last season with the NAHL’s Springfield Jr. Blues.
Talent was part of the reason Wichorek bounced around North America. He also admits that a bad attitude and maturity issues hampered his career path.
“I thought I should have been the No. 1 (goaltender) on every team I went to,” Wichorek said. “I think I’ve finally learned that you have to earn everything.
“I’ve matured a lot. I’ve been through a lot.”
Wichorek’s stay in Canada was particularly rocky, especially since he was the only American player on the team.
“I’d never been a backup before in my life,” Wichorek said. “I kept those feelings to myself. Then, one day I felt like I had just had enough. I talked to the coach, got up and left the team.”
Wichorek, who will be living with Larry and Cindy Squires during the season, admits he made a mistake.
“I regret leaving Alberta,” he said.
But now he’s in Wisconsin.
Jets coach Dane Litke had seen Wichorek play a few years ago at tryout camp for a team in Lincoln, Neb.
“He was pretty young back then,” Litke said. “But I thought he was fundamentally sound.”
Litke, like most coaches do with prospects, filed Wichorek’s name away.
Meanwhile, Wichorek opened the 2008-09 season as the No. 1 goaltender for Springfield.
“I played good at the beginning of the year, then I hit a rough patch,” Wichorek said. “It was mostly mental, and I got a few bad bounces. You just have to try harder at practice.”
C.J. Groh supplanted Wichorek and became the team’s top goaltender, posting a 15-15-3 record with a 2.62 goals against average and a 91 percent save percentage.
Wichorek, meanwhile, finished the season with a 10-13-2 record. He had a 3.6 GAA and a save percentage of 89.2.
“I won three of my last four starts, but C.J. was playing unbelievable,” Wichorek said.
The Junior Blues left Wichorek off their protected list after the season, news he learned just three days before the NAHL draft.
“I was surprised when I heard the news that I had been drafted by Janesville,” Wichorek said. “I didn’t know who with their team even knew who I was.”
“Mentally, I hope he’s ready,” Litke said. “I know Matt’s looking for a fresh start. I think he gets it now.”
That includes a battle with goaltenders James Adamo and Colin Fischer.
Litke hasn’t officially named a starter for Saturday’s exhibition game, but it certainly would be no surprise to see Wichorek guarding the net.
when the first puck drops.
“You have to go with one guy and let him get the bulk of the starts,” Litke said. “He’s done well in practice. He’s made some spectacular saves.
“I hope Matt can take the ball and run with it. He’s the frontrunner. My philosophy with goaltenders is that if you win, you stay in. Once we establish our No. 1, we let him run with it.”
Wichorek is more than willing to do that running.
Jets’ defenseman is a real bird brain
Janesville defenseman Hunter Brown has a good idea what the Jets will be up against when they open their two-game exhibition schedule against the Dubuque (Iowa) Thunderbirds on Saturday at the Janesville Ice Skating Center.
Brown played for the always-tough Tier 3 junior league team last season.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” Brown said of his season with a Dubuque team that rolled to a 43-3-1 record in the Central States Hockey League. “The community was really behind us. I’m hoping the same thing happens in Janesville.”
The Thunderbirds, in fact, finished third in last year’s Tier 3 national tournament. Tier 3 junior hockey in the six United States leagues is a pay-for-play proposition for the players. In addition to paying for room and board, players at the Tier 3 level pay a fee, commonly ranging from $4,000 to $6,500 for a season.
The Jets and Thunderbirds will drop the puck at 7 p.m. Saturday. The same two teams will then play a second preseason game Wednesday night on Dubuque’s home ice.
Brown played in 43 of Dubuque’s 47 games last year, scoring three goals and adding 17 assists.
“They always have one of the top Tier 3 teams in the country,” Brown said.
“Coach (Joe) Coombs is a great coach,” Hunter said. “They like to play a simple style, nothing fancy. They just dump the puck into the corners and try to dig it out and score. It’s a physical style. They like to play grinding hockey.”
JETS AT A GLANCE
President: Bill McCoshen.
General manager: John McCally.
Head coach/GM of hockey operations: Dane Litke.
Assistant coach/Director of player development: Sean Storie.
Home ice: Janesville Ice Skating Center.
League: North American Hockey League.
North Division: Janesville Jets, Alpena IceDiggers, Marquette Rangers, Traverse City North Stars, Motor City Metal Jackets.
Oldest player: Cameron Severson, forward, born May 24, 1989.
Youngest player: Rodney LaLonde, defenseman, born May 31, 1992.
States represented: Wisconsin (7), New York (2), Michigan (2), Colorado (2), Iowa (2), Minnesota (1), Illinois (1), Alabama (1), California (1), Washington (1), Arizona (1), Pennsylvania (1), North Dakota (1), Alaska (1), Montana (1), Texas (1).
Tallest player: Alex Amundson, 6-foot-3, defenseman.
Shortest player: Gene Constantine, 5-6, defenseman.
Heaviest player: Larkin Jacobson, 205, forward,
Lightest players: (tie) Patrick Dalbec, forward; Wes Hawkins, forward; Ethan Nauman, forward; Jared Bertsch, forward, 165 pounds.
Previous NAHL experience (7 players): Severson, Lalonde, Mike Thompson, defenseman; Casey Kirley, forward; Matt Wichorek, goaltender; Tyler Sorenson, defenseman; Beau Burgau, defenseman.