Parker Burgess and Lennie Childs slept well Monday night.
The Janesville Jets head and assistant coaches, respectively, spent nearly all of their day on the ice sheet at the Janesville Ice Arena. With players coming back to town from a holiday break, they were only allowed to practice in small pods while awaiting results from their latest COVID-19 tests.
That meant breaks were few and far between amid the pod sessions for Burgess and Childs.
Whatever it takes, though, to get back on the North American Hockey League ice.
Tuesday marked five weeks since the NAHL’s Midwest Division announced it would pause its schedule “due to schedule complications associated with the most recent public health roder issued by the state of Minnesota.”
The Jets will be back on their home ice Thursday, Friday and Saturday against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Games will start at 7 p.m., but for this weekend’s series no fans will be allowed.
“It was a long day on the ice, and we’re pretty sore right now,” Burgess said Tuesday morning. “But the kids are excited to be playing hockey and finally playing some division games.”
The Jets played a pair of two-game exhibition series against the United States National Team Development program earlier this month.
The players then got about a 10-day break around the holidays. They were required to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to Janesville and also test negative back in Janesville, Burgess said.
“Everyone just kind of went home and spent time with family,” Burgess said. “We definitely enjoyed our experience against the Development Program, but I think everyone is excited to play games that are worth points and against another team in our league. It’s been a while since we got to do that.”
The Jets’ last NAHL games was Nov. 22. Burgess said the team roster has not had significant changes, though Jake Dunlap, who played with Janesville last year, has returned.
They will return against the Ice Dogs, who are the only divisional opponent they have played thus far. Janesville swept a two-game series with Fairbanks to open the season the first week of November.
At 4-1-1-0 (9 points), the Jets hold an early lead in the Midwest Division. Fairbanks is 0-4-0-0. The Minnesota Magicians are scheduled to play their first games of the season Thursday and Friday at Chippewa.
Burgess said the Jets’ makeup games and rest-of-season schedule might be finalized in the next day or two. The NAHL announced last week it will extend its regular season to now end May 16, in part to provide some scheduling flexibility during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This week’s three-game series with Fairbanks is a bit of a precursor of what might be to come for Janesville. Burgess said the team is slated to play six three-game sets moving forward.
“With this year kind of being unique and having larger roster sizes and kids looking for homes, we do have a larger roster than previous years,” Burgess said. “Having that larger roster ... will benefit us. It’ll be a challenge from a management standpoint, because every kids wants to play every game. But we’ll have to juggle that a little bit.”
Three-game series can be particularly taxing on goalies. Owen Millward and Riley Sims have split duties through the first six games, and they will both continue to be counted on moving forward.
“There’s a zero percent chance we feel comfortable having any kid play nine periods in a row (in three days),” Burgess said. “I don’t think that’s overly safe, and for the long-term benefit of the kids, I don’t see how that helps them.
“So we’ll probably split them the first two games (of a series) and then they’ll be competing for that extra start in a given weekend.
“We’ve still got 42 games left, so we want to build this thing up and make sure we’re healthy and strong down the stretch.”
The Jets simply hope the marathon next few months can move forward without any more major disruptions.
“We were together September, October, November, December, so we’ve had a lot of time to practice and implement systems and concepts,” Burgess said. “Everybody’s just excited to play some games now on a consistent basis. Hopefully we can get this thing off the ground and running.”