After attending a couple Janesville Jets practices last December, defenseman Blake Dangos knew he needed to get stronger if he ever wanted to play in the North American Hockey League.
Dangos—then with the St. Louis Jr. Blues of the North American 3 Hockey League, the developmental league for the NAHL—is now playing a regular role on the Jets’ blue line this year after a big offseason and even bigger training camp.
He has played in 15 of the Jets’ 17 games this season, and he has notched two assists as the team prepares this week to host the Minnesota Magicians on Friday and Saturday night at the Janesville Ice Arena.
The Jets drafted Dangos in the eighth round of the NAHL draft in June.
“We decided to go with a younger team this year, and Blake showed a lot of poise in our preseason games and an ability to skate pucks and be offensive,” Jets coach Corey Leivermann said. “Blake’s been one of those younger players who’s made some great plays with the puck and also made some young mistakes, but he’s a fantastic skater.”
Dangos takes pride in his skating ability and offense, describing himself as an offensive defenseman. He scored three goals and added 13 assists in 40 regular-season games with the Jr. Blues last season.
“I’m a confident player,” Dangos said. “I really like to have the puck, but defense comes first in my game to get the puck out of our zone to score goals.”
Dangos said being able to play on a St. Louis team that lost in the playoff semifinals last season helped get him ready for Janesville.
“It’s bigger stress situations, so you have to make your game more simple,” he said. “Coming into the North American League with a little bit of playoff experience let me be more at ease and have a little more confidence with the puck early.”
Part of Dangos’ confidence stems from being quick on his skates, something that’s often seen in the Jets’ breakout when Dangos is on the ice.
“The first steps are crucial in the game now, especially as a defenseman, because you’re always going to have guys on you,” Dangos said. “If you can get out of those crucial situations quickly you’re able to set the play up quicker.”
Dangos’ ability to escape pressure with his first few strides has impressed Leivermann.
“He’s a Division I player. That’s why we have him here,” Leivermann said. “It’s been an interesting year for our organization, but for him he’s really excelled in the opportunities he’s had, and he’s running with it.”
Leivermann admitted he didn’t anticipate Dangos playing as often as he is to start the year, but he is happy to have the defenseman in the fold.
“Staying in the lineup will be interesting when we get healthy, but he’s showing he should be in the lineup night in and night out,” Leivermann said.
Dangos is one of many young players on the Jets (6-10-1) this season as the team looks to get younger. But if the team continues to gain experience and grow, both Dangos and Leivermann think the Jets could be dangerous.
“For a lot of us, it’s our first year playing in the North American League, so we can kind of follow in each others’ footsteps and get the development we need to teach each other and develop our skills down the road,” Dangos said.
“We want to put a premium on developing guys but also winning at the same time,” Leivermann said. “We’re taking our growing pains, but we know that once these young guys get some confidence, we could be a very dangerous team when it matters most.”