Parents peered through small windows at the Janesville Ice Arena this weekend, hoping to catch a glimpse of their sons who were trying to catch the eyes of Janesville Jets coaches and scouts.
Today, Jets general manager Joe Dibble, head coach Parker Burgess and associate head coach Lennie Childs will connect via Zoom from three different states for the NAHL draft.
The local junior hockey league team is doing its best to put on a normal offseason during a summer that is anything but typical. That often means socially distancing during scouting trips, camps, drafts and tryouts in hopes that all the efforts to build a 2020-21 roster are rewarded with a season.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Bill McCoshen, Jets president, founder and managing partner. “We’re trying to pull off camps to build our team for this coming season. We brought in a new coach. We’re trying to figure out, as a league, when we can safely start.
“Everybody’s been working together well to make sure we can have as close to a full season as possible.”
Camp during COVID
Lennie Childs would have been busy heading into this weekend no matter what.
The duties of putting on a “Futures Camp” for the Jets’ top assistant coach would typically include making sure the camp was full with the right number of players, assigning them numbers and structuring workouts through the weekend.
On top of those duties this summer, during the COVID-19 pandemic, was plotting out a strategy of how to safely execute a camp at the Janesville Ice Arena.
With guidance from local health officials, Childs worked with Kathy Calkins—the team’s athletic trainer out of Mercyhealth Sports Medicine—and Mason Lyttle, the team’s vice president of business development and operations, to lay out a very strict plan. Childs said he also took elements of the planning he saw from camps he attended in Hudson and in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He met three or four times via Zoom with City of Janesville officials.
“There have definitely been some late nights,” said Childs, who said nearly 100 players came through the team’s camp. “We ran it by the book. It was really safe.
“Kathy was huge for us, just with her knowledge, and with (working with) high schools and stuff, she was on top of the ball with that. She knew the Rock County guidelines and the CDC guidelines to a T.
“Janesville’s rink is not the biggest place in the world, so you kind of have to make it your own and find ways to make it as safe as possible.”
Players were told exactly when their groups would be on the ice and were instructed not to arrive at the arena more than 15 minutes early. They had their temperatures taken at the door. Each player went through a series of five screening questions designed to see if players might have put themselves in position recently to contract COVID-19.
From there, Childs said, players were assigned specific locker rooms for two reasons. The assignments insured no more than 10 players would use the rooms, while social distancing, at a given time. And if a player ended up testing positive at some point, the Jets would know exactly which other players potentially would be exposed.
“That’s something that not many camps have done,” Childs said. “We had it specifically mapped out. It included thinking about the worst-case scenario, but in this world, you’ve got to be prepared for anything.”
While many camps and other club sporting events taking place are limiting attendance to just one parent per player, the Jets allowed no parents in the building.
McCoshen said the camp “went phenomenal,” and due to the pandemic, the team might have had the most talented crop of young players it has ever had come through the event.
“Credit goes to Lennie Childs and Kathy Calkins and Mason Lyttle, who did a great job planning and making sure we were ready to pull this off,” McCoshen said.
It is possible the Jets could draft a young player or two from this weekend’s camp during the NAHL draft, which takes place today.
However, with only three picks in the draft, which begins at 1 p.m., the team might also choose to pick players that are a little bit older.
It will be the first draft for new head coach Parker Burgess, who was hired in early June and is currently finalizing his move from the east coast to Janesville. He will join Childs (in Janesville) and Dibble (from home in Minnesota) via Zoom as the Jets make their selections.
“Obviously we’ve been meeting pretty much daily, every morning, on a Zoom call together to go over our draft board,” Burgess said. “We tendered a couple players over the last couple weeks and were able to trade for another tender, so with our protected list, we’ve only got three draft picks. So we’ll be able to be a little more selective.”
The Jets hope their futures camp this past weekend is a precursor to their main camp next month.
That event would include nearly three times as many players who would converge on Janesville and try to make the team’s roster.
“We wanted to do that (futures camp) early and we wanted to do it here, because now we’re able to see some things that we want to be perfect at,” Childs said. “We weren’t perfect; that’s just the reality of it. And this world is ever-changing. So we had a good meeting after the camp, and we wrote down three or four things that we really wanted to work on for the main camp.”
The 2019-20 NAHL season ended abruptly along with most other sports in March. The 2020-21 schedule has not yet been released, but the season typically starts in mid-September.
McCoshen said there might be an announcement from the league by the end of the month in terms of a plan for the season.
“We’re watching what the NHL does and hope that goes well, as well as the NBA and MLB. We can learn some things from there over the month of August,”McCoshen said. “Everybody’s trying to do the best they can to return to some semblance of normalcy as safely as possible.
“But it means some sacrifices. It means dads can’t sit in the rink and watch their own kid in a tryout. They’ve got to sit out in the parking lot and wonder.”