After watching his team suffer through a disastrous third period Friday, Janesville Jets coach Corey Leivermann urged his players to regroup and deliver a full 60-minute effort ahead of a chance to gain ground in a close divisional title race.
He received an hour of hard work—plus a bit extra.
Brenden MacLaren scored in overtime to lift the Jets to a 4-3 win Saturday over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, giving Leivermann his first North American Hockey League head-coaching victory in front of 642 spectators at the Janesville Ice Arena.
The Jets (19-11-2-1) pulled even with the Ice Dogs (18-11-3-2) for second place in the Midwest Division. Both teams have 41 points—four back of the first-place Minnesota Magicians.
“The message was continue to have fun, enjoy the moment, embrace it and find a way to get a win and get back into second place,” Leivermann said of Saturday’s win.
Leivermann, who joined the Jets as an assistant ahead of the 2017-18 season, took over as head coach Wednesday, when the Jets announced they were parting ways with Gary Shuchuk.
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind for a few days,” Leivermann said. “I’m trying to take it one day at a time and stay afloat right now.”
Janesville rebounded to secure a weekend split after giving up four third-period goals in a 5-3 loss Friday. The Jets trailed, 3-2, after two periods Saturday, but Carter Hottmann’s third goal of the season with 3:43 left sent the game to overtime.
MacLaren quickly buried his ninth goal thanks to assists from Nicholas Nardella and Brenden Olson. Earlier, MacLaren had scored to pull the Jets within a goal at 11:37 in the second period.
Leivermann said the atmosphere in the team’s locker room has changed since Wednesday’s coaching change.
“I think the youthfulness of me and Lennie (Childs) has brought a little bit of the enjoyment back,” Leivermann said. “They (the players) understand I was there in their shoes, so I think they know we’re on the same page and the trust level right now is through the roof.”
Childs, hired as an assistant coach in November, has first-hand experience playing junior hockey in Janesville. He played as a forward for the Jets during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
The Jets will have a chance to cut into the Magicians’ division lead during a two-game series Saturday and Sunday in Richfield, Minnesota.
JANESVILLE 4, FAIRBANKS 3
Fairbanks 1 2 0 0—3
Janesville 1 1 1 1—4
F—Jax Murray (Dylan Abbott, Jonathan Sorenson), 2:57. J—Tommy Middleton (Carter Hottmann, Andrew Hicks), 16:37.
F—Grant Ledford (Tanner Edwards, Luke Ciolli), 8:13. F—Jack Johnston (Luke Mobley, Abbott), 8:13. J—Brenden MacLaren (Jordon Halverson, Matt Hanewall), 11:37.
J—MacLaren (Nicholas Nardella, Olson), 0:30.
Saves—Mattias Sholl (F) 29, Cole Brady (J) 34.