TJ Polglaze hears the cheers, especially from the southwest corner of the Janesville Ice Arena.
The Beloit native has given the NAHL’s Janesville Jets their latest local draw. And the vocal majority of Polglaze’s fans seem to find themselves at that end of the rink.
“I’ve always got a pretty big group of friends and family hiding there in the corner, cheering me on,” Polglaze said this week as the team prepared for home games tonight and Saturday against the Minnesota Wilderness. “It’s awesome.”
Those fans have been rewarded, getting a chance to see Polglaze grow from simply making the Jets roster to becoming an every-night player and now this season an alternate captain.
And the former Beloit Memorial High player took the next step in his hockey career this week, committing to play Division I college hockey for Michigan Tech.
“They saw me at the Showcase (tournament early in the season) and said they liked how I played and came down to a practice a couple weeks ago,” said Polglaze, whose given name is Tanner. “It’s been awesome. I’m happy with how quick it (the offer) came. It’s awesome to get that scholarship out of the way, and now just focus on our team winning a championship.”
Polglaze is just the latest player to come out of Rock County and suit up for the Jets on the way to a successful college career.
Ross Mauermann went on to score 52 goals for a Providence team that won a national championship his senior year. Defenseman Conor Lemirande has appeared in 109 games at Miami (Ohio), where he recently opened his senior year. And goalie David Jacobson was a two-time Division III national champion and a player of the year at St. Norbert.
Polglaze said he looked up to the other hometown players that worked their way to a college scholarship. And he relishes the opportunity to sleep in his own bed while playing junior hockey.
“To be able to live at home and play in front of your hometown friends every Friday and Saturday when we’re here, it’s a dream come true,” said Polglaze, who lives with his parents, Missi and Jeff, and has an older sister, Emily. “Not many people get to play at home for juniors, so I take a lot of pride in that.”
It’s been a process.
After beginning his high school career at Beloit Memorial, Polglaze moved to Omaha to play in the North American Prospects Hockey League, and he spent three years away from home.
Polglaze joined the Jets heading into last season but appeared in just nine games before Christmas. He played in 43 of them the rest of the way, including all of the Jets’ playoff run.
“He could have taken the easy route and said he wanted to go somewhere else where he would’ve had a better opportunity,” said former coach Joe Dibble, who helped advise Polglaze in making his college commitment. “Instead, he bought into our culture and brought it every day and was never going to quit. He never accepted the fact that he wasn’t ready yet.
“Before you knew it, by the end of the year, he was a big part of our team. And he earned every step of it.”
Polglaze finished with four goals and eight assists last year. He’s already got nine assists in 14 games for the first-place Jets this season.
“The beginning of last year was tough. You’ve just got to push through every day and get better and earn your spot,” Polglaze said. “We had a deep squad, older, so I had to make my way in. but after Christmas I don’t think I missed a game. I think I played 35 straight ... made a name for myself and played the right way.”
Gary Shuchuk is coaching Polglaze for the first time in his first year at the helm of the Jets, but as a college assistant and recruiter saw Polglaze advance through the ranks.
“It also says a lot to the guys in the locker room, to see someone have success through hard work,” Shuchuk said. “I was happy for him.”
Polglaze’s work has paid off. And when his fans start cheering for him at the arena tonight, they’ll be rooting on a future Division I player.