When they were healthy this season, the Janesville Jets hung right with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The Jets were 4-3 in their first seven games against the NAHL’s Midwest Division champions before Fairbanks swept a three-game home series last month.
The series resets tonight, when the Jets open a best-of-five first-round playoff series on the road. They enter the postseason healthy and confident.
“The last four or five games, we played much better, and we got a lot healthier, too,” Jets head coach Corey Leivermann said. “The message has been pretty simple: We’re in, everyone’s at zero wins now and it’s anybody’s game. We just need to believe in ourselves and stay the course.”
Janesville won four of its first six games against Fairbanks this season, including a 4-3 overtime victory and a 5-4 shootout win—both at home.
But the Jets were just 1-4 in Fairbanks. The Jets were outscored 14-5 in that three-game series in March.
“When we were up here in March, we were about as banged up as we could possibly be,” Leivermann said. “We had maybe three full lines.
“If we can play Jets hockey it’ll be a great series.”
The trek to Alaska makes for an interesting, potentially fluctuating, series.
The first two games are in Fairbanks tonight and Saturday.
If the Jets win at least one of those games, then Game 3 will be there Sunday before the teams come to Janesville for Game 4 next Friday.
If the Ice Dogs win the first two games, then next Friday’s game at the Janesville Ice Arena will be Game 3.
“The only way we come home after two games is if we lose the first two,” Leivermann said. “We’d love to win Game 1 and then go from there. We just need to go one game at a time.”
In any hockey postseason, goaltending is often the biggest factor. And in that department, the Jets hope their team MVP can carry them toward a return to the Robertson Cup Championship, which begins May 10 in Blaine, Minnesota.
Cole Brady was named the team’s season MVP at its banquet Monday. He finished with a .912 save percentage and 2.79 goals against average in 43 games in the regular season.
“If you think about our season, Cole has obviously been the backbone of the Jets,” Leivermann said. “He’s kept us in a lot of games we probably shouldn’t have been in. That’s why, when you build your organization, you build from the goalie out. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Offensively, no Jets player has been hotter than Matt Hanewall.
Hanewall had six goals and an assist in the final four games of the regular season. He finished as the team leader in points (36) and goals (20) after playing in 59 of the team’s 60 games.
“He’s probably been our most impactful player—goals, assists, penalty kill—over the last couple weeks. He really stepped up his game down the stretch,” Leivermann said. “Obviously he’s a kid that’s still looking for his Division I commitment, and these last few weeks should really help.”
Other team awards
Along with announcing Brady as the team’s MVP, the Jets announced the rest of their awards at a banquet Monday night.
Hanewall was named the team’s offensive player of the year, while Sean Driscoll earned defensive POY honors. Driscoll tied for the team lead with 25 assists.
Brenden Olson, who had eight goals and 16 assists in 32 games, was rookie of the year.
Carter Hottmann earned the community service award. Logan Ommen was the unsung hero. And Andrew Hicks was named most improved.