Janesville Jets goalies Riley Sims and Owen Millward both play the same position, defend the same net behind the same group of teammates and have the same goalie coach in Larry Clemens.
The everyday hockey fan might consider the two quite similar, but they play goalie in completely different ways.
And those inside the Jets locker room believe those differences will only make the goalies—and team—stronger this year as the Jets get set to open the regular season tonight against Fairbanks at 7 p.m. at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“I think that we have a different tandem than normal, as far as they both bring a little bit different things to the table,” Clemens said. “But I’m excited to see how they work together, and I’m excited to see the growth between the two.”
Sims, a 20-year-old North American Hockey League veteran from Edmonton, Alberta, and Millward, a rookie from Davis, California, follow the typical Jets goalie model: one skilled veteran who can help to bring along a rookie with a high ceiling.
Sims is the smaller goalie at about 6-foot-1 and 175-pounds, compared to Millward at 6-3 and 203. As a result, the goalies play different styles. Sims relies on agility and speed, and Millward relies more on positioning and angles.
“Riley is a little smaller than a normal goalie. He’s very quick laterally, a very good skater,” Clemens said. “He is gonna be a little bit more flashy at times, and he’s going to go out and try to challenge (shooters).
“On the other hand, Owen can really learn to quiet his game down and just go station to station, be very simple and very effective. He still has the ability to have that X factor save, but he’s not going to have to show it very often unless needed.”
Sims joined the team about three months into last season and shored up the team’s backup goalie position behind then-starter Grant Riley. Head coach Parker Burgess said Sims will likely play a bigger role this year as the veteran, beginning as the starter and helping Millward adjust to the speed of junior hockey.
Especially with a condensed schedule this season due to the coronavirus, Burgess said having two goalies he trusts is important. The team has seven separate weekends when it will play three games in three nights, and Burgess said he has no plans to ask either goalie to start every game in that scenario to prevent injury and burnout.
Burgess said his team is in good hands regardless of which goalie starts a game.
“We are just really comfortable with a tandem of having a veteran in ‘Simmer’ and having an NHL prospect, high-ceiling guy like Owen,” Burgess said. “It’s a good situation where they’re both ultra-competitive kids who will push each other in a safe environment and a positive environment where they’re also a team. They’re working for each other but pushing each other.”
Sims spent most of the offseason working on his mental game and staying calm in the net. After working in the backup role before last season was canceled due to the pandemic, Sims said he feels ready to start the season as the No. 1 guy.
“To have a bigger role this year, it makes me proud,” he said, adding that this year’s team is full of talent and his main goal is to contend for and win the Robertson Cup.
Millward said he hopes to help the team win while also improving as a player. He pointed to his ability to read the play as his strongest on-ice trait but takes the most pride in his work ethic and focus.
“I’m fired up to be here,” Millward said. “My whole career I’ve been looking forward to playing junior hockey, and now it’s here.”
So far the pair have been a good match, Sims said.
“He’s (Owen) a great kid. He is young, so I try to teach him some things here and there with the whole junior hockey and how that goes,” Sims said. “It’s been pretty easy to get along with him. He’s a hard worker and he pushes me every day, which is good. That’s what I wanted, and I’m excited to get the season going with him.”
“He’s been easing me into the junior landscape and he’s a veteran who knows his stuff,” he said. “It’s been great to have a guy like that mentoring me and getting me going here.”
Clemens said Janesville can expect a lot from both goalies this year.
“I think it’s gonna be pretty consistent with every other year. They’re going to keep them (the Jets) in games,” Clemens said. “They’re going to help win some games for them, and they’re going to have a pretty consistent guy in the back regardless of who is in the net.”