When Cade Destefani arrived at Janesville Jets main camp in October, a jersey with a nameplate and a spot on the team were not marked on the whiteboard in the coaches office as a guarantee.
But it was evident early on that the 19-year-old from New Hampshire was going to earn a roster spot, and the forward hasn’t looked back. He leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 12 assists in 20 games heading into Thursday night’s home game against Chippewa.
Western Michigan University took notice, too, as Destefani announced this week his commitment to play Division I hockey for the school.
“He came to camp as a training camp player and made the team,” Jets first-year head coach Parker Burgess said. “We knew he had good offensive instincts, but even us, I don’t think we would have said he’s going to be a point per game player right off the bat.
“But he was given an opportunity early to play in a pretty significant role on one of our top lines and on the power play,” he continued. “We tell all our players when you get opportunities, it’s your responsibility to be prepared for those opportunities and then capitalize on them. And that’s what Cade’s done.”
Destefani got a sniff of the North American Hockey League last year with the Northeast Generals and scored two points in 12 games. When he came to Janesville this fall, he said he wanted to build off that experience.
“Being in the league for a little bit last year—I was able to go to the NAHL Showcase at the start of the year and play in four games—and then being able to watch and see the other teams in the league, it definitely gave me a perspective on what it’d be like this year. It definitely helped me out,” he said.
Burgess described Destefani as an offensive driver and noted his shooting ability as a top attribute. He said goalies have to be aware when the forward is on the ice.
“He doesn’t need much room to get a shot off, and when he does it seems to find the back of the net,” Burgess said. “He’s got an excellent shot and really high end offensive instincts. Because of that, he finds himself in a good position to get chances and get his linemates chances.
“And that’s all well and good, but not only does he get those chances, he finishes them. And that’s not a skill every kid has.”
Destefani said his shot is something he has always focused on.
“In hockey, if you have a good shot you’ll always have a good spot, and it helps being able to play on the power play,” he said. “Growing up, I’ve always worked on my shot and gone to a coach for shooting. Along with many other things, it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time working on and improving over the years.”
It helped him get off to a quick start this season. Destefani scored four goals and seven points in his first two games and was named the league’s forward of the month in November.
“Obviously you don’t expect to produce heavily right away, you just are working on developing and building chemistry with the team and working on the systems that the coaches put out for you,” Destefani said. “To have a good start so far has been awesome, but I think we’re just looking to be more consistent as a team and then everyone will be jumping off the page real quick.”
Destefani said he knew early on that Janesville was where he wanted to play this season. Though his spot wasn’t guaranteed when he arrived at camp, he wanted to show what he could do and make the Janesville Ice Arena his home rink.
“Being a Jet is a privilege. Being able to walk around town and go to the gym and be at the rink in front of all the Jets fans, it’s a privilege, and I definitely don’t take it for granted,” Destefani said. “In my time here, I’ve met all the people that are here within the organization and all the fans, it’s a really special thing they have going here. It’s really special to be a part of.”
Goalies across the league should be on notice, Burgess said, because he believes Destefani will only get better.
“I think a lot of guys who are offensive, if they’re putting up numbers they have this mindset of ‘I’m producing. That’s good enough.’ I think Cade, what goes unseen sometimes is his commitment. He’s invested in his development and his game,” Burgess said.
“Our expectation is for him to stay committed to his process and his development plan so that toward the end of the year when we’re playing the most important hockey, he’s a go-to guy for us.”