The 2019-20 North American Hockey League season ended abruptly in the middle of the playoffs due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020-21 season, at least for some teams, saw the start delayed a month and a half compared to normal.
The Janesville Jets paused their team activities due to coronavirus exposure as recently as Thursday.
But the Jets were back at practice Monday, and they are set to open their regular season Thursday night against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“It feels like sometimes whatever you have planned for the day or for the week, by about 9:30 in the morning, you can just crumple it up and you have something else on your plate,” Jets first-year coach Parker Burgess said. “There are a lot of distractions that can add to frustrations. But we’re proud of our players for how they’ve handled any and all adversity.
“And by having that mentality, when things do get going on Thursday, no matter what happens throughout the year, we’ve built up a resiliency to handle adversity.”
The NAHL season typically begins in mid-September.
Some divisions opened their season Oct. 9.
The Midwest Division, including the Jets, begins play this week.
“They just want to play literally anybody but each other,” Burgess said. “We’ve done intersquads, practiced, competed against each other daily. I think they’re just excited to test themselves against somebody else.”
Games will look different at the Janesville Ice Arena, where capacity is limited to 220 fans, almost exclusively season ticket holders except on four special nights for sponsors.
Fans unable to attend games can sign up for an account to watch through hockeytv.com.
What will they see? Burgess, in his first campaign, said he has a group that should mesh well together.
“It’s not a roster built with a bunch of top-heavy superstars. It’s a roster built like a team,” Burgess said. “We have a lot of talent and speed and size and competitiveness. But more than anything, they’re going to play for each other and the community, not for themselves.”
Many of the players are also still playing for their roster spots early in the season.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Burgess said there were 31 players on the roster, and it must be trimmed to 24 by Nov. 15.
So, as with just about everything since March, there are many moving parts as the Jets’ season gets underway.
“Any day we get through that we’re able to practice and be together and compete, that’s a good day for us,” Burgess said. “We just feel like the results will follow if we can just get though the weeks and play some games.”
No exhibition tonight
The Jets were scheduled to play an exhibition game tonight at the Janesville Ice Arena against a team with the United States National Team Development Program. But Bill McCoshen, the Jets president, founder and managing partner, said Tuesday night the USNTDP team was forced to cancel the game.