Ready for takeoff: Jets to open second season
Season No. 2 begins tonight for the Janesville Jets junior A hockey team.
The Jets host the Chicago Hitmen at the Janesville Ice Skating Center in a North American Hockey League game at 7:30.
Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2010-11, the North American Hockey League is largest USA Hockey-sanctioned Junior A league, boasting 26 teams from across North America. It prides itself on the social maturity and skill development of student-athletes ages 16-20 with aspirations of advancing to collegiate and/or professional hockey.
The NAHL was founded in 1975 when the Michigan Junior League and Wolverine Junior League formed the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. In 1984, the name changed to the North American Junior Hockey League and was later modified to the current North American Hockey League.
Janesville’s first season in the league went better than expected. The Jets finished third in the North Division of the NAHL and qualified for the playoffs as an expansion team.
Janesvile coach Dane Litke said season two would be even more challenging.
“We’re not going to sneak up on anybody like we did last season,” Litke said. “Teams counted on a game against an expansion team being an easy night, but we proved them wrong. They learned early on in the season how hard it was to play against us.
“But now, with our division doubling in size, it’s going to be important to play hard every weekend because points given away are going to come back and haunt you.”
Eight Jets return from last season’s team, including Janesville’s Ross Mauermann. The forward led the Jets in assists last season with 28 and was second overall in scoring.
The Jets 25-man roster includes 12 Wisconsin players. Litke says that number reflects the current state of hockey in the state.
“There are some very good hockey players from Wisconsin right now, and hopefully for the ones on this team, they can become good Junior A players,” Litke said.
“The sad part is, some may not be here down the road. That’s just the way it is. Some people will be upset about that, but we’re trying to build a good hockey team and a good program here.”
Litke is demanding the Jets follow three basic fundamentals this season. A strong work ethic. Understanding and running his system. And utilizing each and every player’s skill level to the maximum.
Last Friday’s 8-7 exhibition win over the Chicago Fury was not a good starting point, Litke said.
“I didn’t see much of anything as far as our work ethic and implementing the system talked about,” Litke said. “There was some skill displayed, but not enough. Hopefully, we learned a lot from that because everything starts for real Friday.”
Besides the season-ending NAHL playoffs, the biggest event of the season for the players is the Showcase Tournament.
The eighth annual event, which is widely considered one of the most well-attended and heavily scouted festivals in North America, runs from Sept. 15-18 at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minn., where each of the NAHL’s 26 teams will play four regular-season games.
“The Showcase is an opportunity to play four games and gain valuable points in the standings, but for the players, it’s so much more,” Litke said. “It’s their best chance to prove to all the coaches and scouts on hand that they can play at the next level.
“For a team, the Showcase Tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a season. But for some players, it can be the difference between a Division I scholarship and finding something else to do besides playing hockey.”
It’s time to drop the puck. Let the fun begin.