A year ago, the Janesville Jets roster included the leading scorer in all of the North American Hockey League.
Just past the one-thirds pole of this season, you won’t find a Jets player in the top 50 goal-scorers when scrolling through the league stats.
And yet, as the Jets begin a six-week homestand, which begins against the Minnesota Wilderness on Friday night, they sit in second place in the Midwest Division.
Thus far, the team has proven there is more than one way to win hockey games.
“We knew going into this year it was going to be scoring by committee, and it has been,” Jets head coach Gary Shuchuk said. “If you have four lines that can score, you don’t have teams looking at your roster going, ‘OK, which line do we need to shut down?’
“That’s the plus. But it is nice to have a go-to guy that gives you a chance to win.”
Last year, Janesville had a couple of those players, including league MVP Jakov Novak, who scored 32 goals and posted 73 points in 56 regular-season games. Kip Hoffmann added 24 goals and 36 assists in 58 games.
Through the first 24 games this season, Jack Vincent and Matt Hanewall pace the Jets with six goals apiece.
“I’m just happy to be contributing,” said Vincent, a Madison native. “We’re a deep team.
“We obviously don’t have that one prolific scorer, like an MVP from last year that the fans remember. But we knew from Day 1 this team would find success through its depth, its strong defensive corps and its goaltending.
“And that’s where our success has come from.”
The Jets do have 14 players that already have multiple goals, and 11 of those 14 have at least three. Those 11 players are on a pace to score about eight or nine goals, whereas just seven players last year finished with at least eight.
One other notable effect from scoring by committee has been a bevy of close games. Sixteen of the Jets’ 24 games have been decided by two goals or less, including each of the last six. Janesville is coming off a pair of 3-2 victories at Springfield last weekend.
“Good teams close things out at the end of tight games, and that’s what we’re learning to do,” Vincent said.
“As coaches, you’d like to see a 4-1 or 6-1 shellacking once in a while, but it hasn’t happened,” Shuchuk said. “You learn to be resilient. These 2-1, 3-2 games early in the year will pay off later in the season.”
Nieto out for season
Shuchuk said goalie Garrett Nieto, one of the team’s alternate captains, recently underwent surgery and will miss the rest of this season.
Nieto went 3-3 with a 3.42 goals against average but hadn’t played since Oct. 5.
“He had surgery the 21st and will come back and do his rehab here after Christmas,” Shuchuk said, adding Nieto wanted to remain a part of this team.
The Union College commit went 21-5-0-2 with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage in the regular season last year and was 4-2 with a 1.68 and .940 save percentage in the playoffs.
Cole Brady has been the Jets starting goalie and ranks fifth in the NAHL with a .931 save percentage. He’s 10-5-1-1 with a 2.13 goals against average.
No place like home
Just seven of the Jets’ first 24 games have been played at the Janesville Ice Arena.
The Jets survived that stretch, and now they’ll attempt to make use of playing their next nine games in a row at home.
They don’t play on the road again until Jan. 12.
“Now we’ve got to make hay, make sure you take care of business and make this a hard place (for opponents) to play,” Shuchuk said.
Childs returns to Janesville
The Jets announced Wednesday that former Jets player Lennie Childs has returned to Janesville as an assistant coach and director of the Junior Jets program.
Childs played 116 games for the Jets from 2010-12.
“His background as a player and coach will help us expand and enhance the Junior Jets program and will add more resources for our Jets players,” Jets president Bill McCoshen said in a team release. “Lennie will be a great complement to head coach Gary Shuchuk and assistant coach Corey Leivermann.”