A canceled end to the season. Seemingly ever-changing guidelines and regulations surrounding a global pandemic. And now a coaching change.
This offseason has been unlike any other for the Janesville Jets.
But despite schedule changes for some of the North American Hockey League’s camps and now a transition period as new head coach Parker Burgess takes the reins, the team believes it remains in good position while hoping for a normal regular season beginning in September.
“It’s definitely different, and there have been a lot of moving parts,” said Lennie Childs, the team’s associate head coach who joined the staff in 2018 and also played for the team from 2010-12. “But we put in good preparation early in identifying talent and thinking ahead. That’s something that you’ve always got to do in this league.
“So we’re not backtracking or behind the eight ball. We had a lot of kids in for practice throughout the season and got on some talent early. Now we’re just waiting for the next thing to pop up and take care of.”
The NAHL suspended the regular season March 12 and canceled it a few days later. The Jets held a 24-26-1-1 record at the time and were right in the thick of the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Midwest Division.
The league hoped it might be able to hold the playoffs but announced the postseason was also canceled March 17.
The NAHL later decided to alter its draft, as well. It held a supplemental draft May 12 in which each of the league’s 27 teams had three picks. The Jets chose three forwards: Jan Lasak, who played 13 games with the Jets early last season before being called up to the USHL; Robert Cronin, who also has played in the USHL; and Jacob Sacratini.
“Normally, the regular, annual draft would have been when the supplemental draft was,” Jets general manager Joe Dibble said. “It was important to have a draft early, even if it was only three picks. It allows teams and players to know a little more about where they stand. And there’s a little more excitement, too, because it’s exciting anytime there is a draft.”
The regular NAHL Entry Draft on July 21. Moving it back allowed players to attend pre-draft camps and combines that were postponed due to the pandemic.
The Jets’ main camp, in which invited players converge on the Janesville Ice Arena to essentially try out for the team, is typically held in early July. But that has been pushed back, too, and is now scheduled for the second week of August.
“It’s been different, obviously, with the timing,” Dibble said. “We’ve had to push things back about a month and a half. But now states are opening back up and rinks are starting to open.”
With that in mind, the Jets moved quickly in hiring Parker Burgess as their new head coach when they learned Corey Leivermann was leaving to be associate head coach with the USHL’s Madison Capitols.
“We felt it was important we find someone fairly quickly that aligned with the way we do things,” Dibble said. “I’m ecstatic it all came to fruition. It’s not often when your head coach leaves that your head doesn’t spin.”
Indeed, this offseason has been littered with potential turbulence for the Jets. But they seem to have kept an even keel.