What is a hockey team to do when both of its goalies, five of its strongest players and its head coach are all out of town?
When it’s got a three-game weekend on the horizon, taking a couple days off is not an option.
Such was the case for the Janesville Jets this week.
Head coach Gary Shuchuk, goalies Garrett Nieto and Daniel Lebedeff, along with Jakov Novak, Brendan MacLaren, Sam Renlund, Erik Palmqvist and Alec Semandel, all took part in the North American Hockey League’s Top Prospects Tournament in Michigan on Tuesday and Wednesday.
That left those back home to practice without them—and with a couple up-and-coming goalies—ahead of a long weekend of regular-season action. The Jets host Coulee Region at 7 o’clock tonight ahead of road games against Springfield on Friday and Saturday.
“I only have three lines, five defensemen and two goalies that just came down to skate,” said Jets assistant Corey Leivermann, who ran practices in Shuchuk’s stead. “So it’s just trying to be short and smooth and trying to get these guys as ready to go as they can be for the weekend.”
Probably the biggest challenge for the Jets was filling both goals so that players weren’t shooting at empty nets for a few days.
“One of them actually was in town for two weeks with us while Daniel was gone for his United Nations tournament,” Leivermann said. “And then we had a goalie here who I had scouted throughout the fall and winter. He’s actually been in talks with Larry (Clemens), our goalie coach, and he’s very high on our radar for next season.”
So, the Jets got a bit of a glimpse toward their future during a couple days where several players had a chance to bolster theirs in front of college and NHL scouts.
Though it made for a hectic schedule for the Jets, the opportunities were well worth the frenzy.
“I think it was us and one other team that had seven players up at Top Prospects, and with having your head coach there, too, that’s an honor,” Leivermann said.
The main focus for Janesville, though, continues to be the postseason push.
The Jets clinched a playoff spot last weekend but are still trying to chase down Fairbanks, which hasn’t been beaten in regulation in a whopping 31 straight games, with 29 wins and two overtime losses in that span.
“With us clinching, that’s always nice to have in your back pocket, but at the end of the day we’re still chasing Fairbanks for the 1 seed,” Leivermann said. “We can battle for a week long here and be ready to go for the weekend.”