Corey Leivermann believes if the Janesville Jets’ young roster can continue progressing, the team could be “scary” by the second half of the season.
That may already be a little frightening to the Jets’ North American Hockey League rivals, considering they’re off to an 8-1-0-0 start and are out front in the Midwest Division.
Janesville rides a five-game winning streak into this weekend’s series against top division rival Fairbanks, with games beginning at 7 p.m. today and Saturday at the Janesville Ice Arena. It’s been a hot start for the Jets, but it’s one where they’ve relied heavily on their few returning players, a hot goalie tandem and some late-game heroics.
“If we can lean on our goalies and our leaders a little more and get these young guys producing, we’ll be a pretty scary team,” Leivermann said.
Six of the Jets’ top eight point-scorers are players who returned from last season’s roster. There are only eight returnees from that team.
Captain Kip Hoffmann has carried over momentum from his great playoff stretch last year and leads the team with 12 points. Linemates Brendan MacLaren and Erik Palmqvist, as well as returner Jakov Novak, each have four goals—tops on the team.
“My linemates have been good, and then just confidence, I think,” MacLaren said about his solid start, which also includes three assists.
“It’s just adjusting to the game more. After last year, when I played about half the year, it’s nice to be a veteran player and to have some confidence.”
Among newcomers, goalies Daniel Lebedeff and Garrett Nieto have led the charge.
Nieto is 5-0 with a 1.37 goals against average and .952 save percentage. Lebedeff, a University of Wisconsin recruit, is 3-1 with a 2.20 GAA and .930 save percentage.
“They’ve just been absolute rocks for us,” Leivermann said. “Daniel’s been playing Fridays and Garrett on Saturdays, but those two have given us a chance to win every single night. We’d like to give them some more goal support. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
The Jets have leaned hard, at times, on their netminders. Five of their eight victories have come by just one goal, and Janesville has trailed in five of its eight wins, as well, including three of the last four.
“We’ve got a really good group, but we’ve got to work on burying teams and not waiting until the last (minute),” MacLaren said. “Coach is really big on, we want to dominate, not just wait until the end and hope we can win in overtime or a shootout. We need to play three solid periods.”
This weekend’s series against the Ice Dogs should present a solid early-season challenge. The two teams have gone through a tug of war over first place in the division over the last several seasons.
Fairbanks comes to Janesville in second place, four points back of the Jets but with one fewer game played.
“It’s usually a more skilled game, with more skilled players,” MacLaren said of the matchup with Fairbanks. “It’s definitely a rivalry, as the top two teams in the division.”