The cross-continent trek to Alaska ranks toward the bottom of NAHL players’ lists of favorite road trips.
It requires a reset of the sleep schedule and two weeks away from home living out of a hotel room.
“It gets to be long, but it’s nice out here,” Janesville Jets defenseman Sean Driscoll said Monday in a phone interview from Fairbanks, Alaska. “We saw a couple moose this morning.”
Driscoll and his Jets teammate, Brenden Olson, kicked off the team’s latest Alaska road trip in style last week.
Driscoll and Olson committed to play Division I college hockey for Boston University and Minnesota State-Mankato, respectively. They are the Jets’ first two new DI college commitments this season.
“It was pretty exciting, because it’s a goal you have growing up and always look forward to,” Olson said. “It was a big day for me and my family. And it was big for the team, as well, because now we can work on getting other players commitments.”
The Jets split with Kenai River over the weekend and fell to fourth place—though just seven points out of first—in the NAHL Midwest Division.
They play three games against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs later this week.
Olson committed to Mankato, currently ranked in the top five in the country, on March 5.
An Eau Claire native, he joined the Jets in early December after starting the season in the United States Hockey League. He ranks sixth on the team in points (22) despite playing just 25 games, with eight goals and 14 assists.
“It helped a lot coming from the USHL to here,” Olson said. “It’s obviously been a different transition, but I knew quite a few of the guys coming in and had some buddies on the team.
“Having a winning program, it’s pretty special. And with the special coaching staff we have, it’s been a lot of fun. I think that’s played a big part of what’s helped me get more exposure and get my commitment.”
Driscoll, a defenseman from Mequon, has spent much considerably more time with the Jets. He’s in his second campaign with the team and has blossomed as the season has gone on.
Driscoll, who along with Olson was chosen to play in the NAHL Top Prospects event with many of the league’s other top uncommitted players, said the recruiting trail had heated up.
He said he was getting looks from Wisconsin and Massachusetts-Lowell but could not pass up the chance to play for a prestigious Boston University program.
“It was a better opportunity for me to play, and then add in the history,” said Driscoll, whose first trip to BU came when he was a sophomore in high school and saw the team play on a trip out east. “I just kind of wanted to see the area, and then seeing BU play Boston College was an experience.
“I never really expected to get the opportunity to play there.”
Driscoll leads the Jets with 21 assists and has 24 points in 50 games this year. He’s got 29 points in 106 career games with Janesville, including last year’s playoff run.
“Janesville has been a place for me to figure out who I am as a player, find my role and find myself as a person,” Driscoll said. “Janesville was the perfect spot for that.”
Seven other Jets players had already made Division I commitments prior to this season or while with other teams. They are: defenseman John Prokop (Miami), forward Nicholas Nardella (Michigan Tech), forward Justin Engelkes (Miami), forward Erik Bargholtz (Michigan State), goaltender Cole Brady (Arizona State), and goaltender Garrett Nieto (Union).
Fairbanks up next
The Jets have nine games left in the regular season, with one-third of them coming this week against Fairbanks. The series begins Thursday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Janesville didn’t help itself by only nabbing two points at fifth-place Kenai River, but with 59 points, the Jets are just seven back of first-place Fairbanks. The Minnesota Magicians (64) and Springfield Jr. Blues (60) sit second and third, respectively, with the Blues having just eight games left.
If the Jets are going to gain ground, however, they’ll almost certainly need to score more goals. They mustered just two goals against Kenai, winning 1-0 and losing 4-1.
“We’ve gotta put some more in the net,” Olson said. “I think it’ll come with our hard work and systematic play we have on the ice. ... It’s something we’re working on every day in practice toward the end of the season here.”
Brady continued his streak of strong play in net for the Jets. He posted a shutout in the Jets’ win Friday night.
Sam Metcalf got the start Saturday and stopped 31 of the 33 shots he saw. Two of the Kenai goals were late in the game with Janesville’s net empty.
“We have a really tight group (of defensemen),” Driscoll said. “Everyone rallies behind each other. It’s a team effort here in Janesville.
“We have the team (to make a run) and the tools to do it. It’s just finding our groove toward the end of the season. You never know what’s going to happen.”