When is spending nearly eight hours on a bus considered catching a break?
When the original plan was to be traveling all the way to Alaska.
Such is the case for the Janesville Jets this week.
They go on the road for a two-game series against host Fairbanks in North American Hockey League action.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alaskan teams in the Jets’ division have been posted up in Minnesota.
And so the Jets set out for Marshall, Minnesota, to meet up with the Ice Dogs at Red Baron Arena on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s about a 7 1/2- or eight-hour trip, but there’s no planes involved,” Jets first-year coach Parker Burgess said. “It sounds like they (the Alaska teams) might still go back there mid-March, which means we could still potentially make a trip there. But that’s still to be determined.
“So this is not quite as long of a trip, but it’s not short.”
The Jets were idle last weekend and sit in second place in the Midwest Division at 10-6-2-0.
“We finally saw the trade deadline and roster freeze deadline come and go, so we’ve got our team now, and there won’t be any more trades or releases or anything like that,” Burgess said. “We’re set, and of the 27 guys we have here, 23 started with us in training camp.
“The kids are in good spirits and we’re still playing hockey. That’s the thing we’re most grateful for at this point.”
The Minnesota Magicians lead the division at 12-3-0-0.
Fairbanks is right behind Janesville at 10-12-1-0, Kenai River is in fourth a 10-11-0-0 and Chippewa rounds out the division at 4-10-1-1.
The top four teams in each division are slated to make the NAHL playoffs, which have been pushed back to start in late May.
With just four teams in the division, the Jets’ chances of making the postseason are good, but Burgess said he is not focused on the standings.
“I’m not a big standings person,” Burgess said. “I think just focusing on the day-to-day, the results and the standings will take care of themselves.
“Whether you finish first and get home ice or you don’t, you’re going to have to beat two really good teams to get to the Robertson Cup.”
One thing is clear: Any successful playoff push by the Jets will come via overall team success.
The Jets do not necessarily have a prolific scorer—though Cade Destefani continues to play well with 10 goals and 12 assists in 18 games, and Charlie Schoen has eight and 10, respectively, in 14 games. But they have 10 different players who have at least three goals this year.
“We’re a group that we’ve learned it’s a collective effort if we’re going to have success,” Burgess said. “Having a bigger roster means everyone isn’t going to play every night. But those guys are no less significant than the guys that are in the lineup that night.
“I think that’s the way you sustain success for the long-term. You don’t want to be front-loaded, because if those guys get shut down you’re going to have trouble. Every game we have different guys step up, and we hope that continues.”
The Jets will continue to ride Owen Millward and Riley Sims in goal. Millward is 5-4-1-0 with a 3.77 goals against average and .895 save percentage. Sims is 3-2-1-0 with a 3.24 GAA and .895 save percentage.
In Janesville’s last series before the bye weekend, they were forced to call up Eli Bowers because Millward and Sims were out due to COVID-19 protocols. All Bowers did was go 2-0 with 73 saves and four goals allowed to earn the Midwest Division player of the week award.
“With our guidelines, neither Riley or Owen were eligible to play against Chippewa,” Burgess said. “Eli stepped in. The kids kind of rallied around him, too. You don’t have either of your regular goalies, you better dial it in defensively.
“But Owen and Riley are still our goalies. No turnover there.”
Expect Sims and/or Millward back between the pipes this week in the Jets’ road series against Fairbanks—but in Minnesota.