The Janesville Jets got a bit of an upgrade in practice venue this week.
At least for one day.
The North American Hockey League team is gearing up for a battle with first-place Fairbanks at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Janesville Ice Arena.
But on Tuesday, the Jets were lacing up their skates at the United Center in Chicago. They watched the Chicago Blackhawks practice and then got in a workout session of their own.
“I think it was good for the boys to get out there and enjoy it and see what they could potentially work up to,” Jets forward Logan Ommen said. “Some of the guys were a little starstruck, but it was a good practice, good motivation.”
The United Center is nothing new to Ommen. His father, Tony, is the Blackhawks’ Senior Director of Team Services.
Tony manages the team’s day-to-day logistics, including travel, and has been with the team for about two decades. Before that, he worked for the St. Louis Blues, and Logan Ommen said his father’s hockey occupations were what first got him into hockey.
Jets coach Gary Shuchuk said the United Center practice came after about a month of planning.
“The date opened up. There was supposed to be a concert that night, and it got canceled,” he said. “So the Blackhawks practiced there instead of their practice rink. It worked out great.
“Some of the guys, that’ll probably be the only time they get on an NHL rink. The chance to skate out there, see the banners in the rafters, it was pretty cool.”
Shuchuk said there were moments the team was allowed to have some fun and enjoy the moment. But with a critical weekend coming up, the Jets also made sure to get some work done.
Fairbanks comes to town riding a 21-game unbeaten streak and is in first place at 28-5-3-2 in the NAHL Midwest Division. Janesville, which also plays a road game Saturday at Springfield, is second at 24-9-2-0.
Shuchuk said Friday’s game will provide a measuring stick against the team the Jets will likely need to go through if they hope to advance to the Robertson Cup for the second straight year.
“This is a big weekend,” Ommen said. “We need to get these two points against Faibranks and close that gap between us and them for first and second place.”
Ommen is settling in midway through his first full season in Janesville. He played a couple games late last year as an affiliate player but has suited up for 29 games this season. He has scored two goals and added three assists.
“He’s coming along. A lot of the young guys are trying to figure out where they fit in on the team,” Shuchuk said. “He has to be an energy guy, a guy who can come in and spark a line right away. He has to use his speed and is tenacious on the puck. That’s what we’re starting to see.”
And, for one day this week, at least, it didn’t hurt to have the Ommen family connection to help set up a little midseason field trip.