The North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division was forced to pause its regular season Nov. 24, with games off through the end of the calendar year.
The stoppage has not kept the Janesville Jets from playing.
In fact, they are playing the toughest competition they will face all year.
The Jets hosted the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team this past weekend and will go on the road to Plymouth, Michigan, for a rematch series this Friday and Saturday.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” said first-year Jets coach Parker Burgess, whose team was slated to play the NTDP program in a one-game exhibition prior to the start of the season, but the game was called off. “The way they do things and their preparation, the way they travel, their logistics, it’s impressive. It will help us out as we learn and get better.”
The NTDP teams (U18 and U17) play in the Tier I United States Hockey League, while the Jets are in the Tier II NAHL. The NTDP teams features the top 22 players in the country for their age level.
The Jets, though, did not appear to be intimidated Friday night at the Janesville Ice Arena. They trailed three times in the opening two periods but rallied to tie each time, took a lead in the third period and eventually won, 5-4, in a shootout.
“We played hard and detailed and like every shift would make a difference Friday,” Burgess said.
“It was an awesome team win and one I will definitely remember for a long time. I don’t think that happens to them (NTDP) very much. But it was just an excellent effort and a good barometer for our guys to show how good we can be when everyone is going.”
Saturday’s series finale did not go as well.
The U.S. team scored four first-period goals on the way to a 10-1 victory.
“The shots were only 36-30, so it was actually a closer game from a shot standpoint than it was on Friday,” Burgess said. “But we gave up a few early and weren’t able to stop the bleeding. Once the Team USA snowball gets rolling downhill, it’s tough to stop.”
The Jets are scheduled to have two more chances against the NTDP team Friday and Saturday.
“We’re leaving a day early and will get to see the USA compound there,” Burgess said. “It should be a lot of fun. The world junior camp is going on, so maybe we’ll get a chance to see them and steal some drills we can use in practice.”
Just getting out on the ice for four games while play the NAHL Midwest Division is halted is a bonus for the Jets.
Not only do they have a chance to stay in game shape, but they get an opportunity to put their skills on tape against some of the top players.
“It’s a great opportunity to get our players exposure to NHL and Division I college teams,” Burgess said. “All of this is a huge credit to how committed our kids have been. They’ve done everything the right way and bought into the bubble we’ve tried to create. And that’s the reason we’re getting to play.
“We’re grateful to be playing hockey when every other team in our division is sitting at home.”