There is a palpable kinship among junior hockey players across the continent, but in Janesville the bond is biological.
The Jets’ brilliant brethren - Derek and Larkin Jacobson - have helped the club explode out of the starting blocks this season, winning five of its first six games and sharing the NAHL North Division penthouse with co-tenant St. Louis early in the 2010-11 campaign.
“Obviously, Derek and Larkin are a big part of this team,” said Jets head coach Dane Litke. “We expected that they’d help provide leadership this season, and that’s exactly what we’re getting from them. Basically, that’s our first-line center and first-line wing.”
The Sioux City, Iowa, tandem have provided much more than leadership thus far. Derek, who is older than Larkin by about 15 months, is tied for the team lead with seven points, with Larkin right behind at six. Their synergy is born of familiarity and forged over numerous seasons on the same teams and same lines.
“It definitely helps to be out there with him,” said Larkin, who finished last season with 11 goals and 16 assists over 56 games. “We play the same style, and it’s easy to know where he is and where he’s going to be as the play develops. I think that gives us a slight advantage.”
Not surprisingly, Derek offered a similar assessment.
“We compliment each other on the ice, and it’s pretty comfortable for both of us, I think. It’s been great getting to play together these past few years.”
While the age difference meant the brothers were on-again, off-again teammates throughout youth hockey, they reunited for good in Midgets, playing for the Russell Stover program in Kansas City and the Pittsburgh Hornets a year later before joining forces again in Janesville just in time for the Jets’ inaugural season. The duo helped propel the team into the playoffs with a 29-23-6 record.
“They both have some skill, but the thing that really sets them apart is how hard they work,” Litke explained. “They help set the tone for the whole team. They obviously had a taste of success last year, and want even more this season.”
Derek, who was third among Jets skaters last year with 31 points over 53 games, had at least a point in each of Janesville’s first five games. He had two goals in the club’s season-opening victory against Chicago (both set up by Larkin), which included the game-winner, then dished out a pair of assists the following night in the Windy City. Larkin assisted on two markers against New Mexico at the Showcase, and levied goals against Austin and Alaska in a pair of victories.
“I’m the older brother, but he’s a bigger body,” Derek explained. “And he’s a good skater for his size. He can protect the puck in the corner, he’s got great vision and a big shot. And we look out for each other out there, especially if one or the other is getting picked on.”
Hockey has been a family affair so far this season in Janesville, even when it isn’t. A third Jacobson - David - has also been instrumental in the Jets’ hot start. While he’s not related to Derek and Larkin, the Janesville native has backstopped the club in each of the first six games, claiming a pair of shutouts and earning SBK Hockey NAHL Goalie of the Week honors on Sept. 13.
“David’s not related, but if he keeps it up I think we’ll adopt him,” Larkin joked.
While the brothers are aiming for a playoff spot and subsequent Robertson Cup berth, the Jacobsons hope they have yet to co-author the final chapter in their shared hockey history.
“We grew up together, we grew up playing together, we billet together, and it’s been great,” Derek added. “And going forward, I’d like to keep playing together at the next level, and however far we make it after that.”
CHICAGO HITMEN: The expansion Hitmen jumped into the NAHL with both feet, playing seven games in nine days to start the season. A packed house of 1,400 fans enjoyed the club’s first-ever home opener on Sept. 11 at West Meadows. Louis Educate recorded the first home goal in team lore, converting a power-play goal 8:24 into the second period.
MICHIGAN WARRIORS: Justin Hoomaian wrote himself into the Michigan Warriors’ history books, scoring the inaugural goal in the relocated-team’s opener. The Warriors outshot Amarillo by a 36-23 margin in the narrow 4-3 setback and finished the Showcase with a 2-2 record.
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: In one of the most entertaining games of the NAHL Showcase, the Metal Jackets raced to a 2-0 lead over Texas, battled back from a 4-2 deficit to tie the game, and scored a 5-4 overtime victory when Cody Wydo potted a power-play marker 3:50 into the extra frame. Wydo finished with three goals and an assist, while R.J. Kleiman contributed a trio of assists.
PORT HURON FIGHTING FALCONS: The Falcons are busy preparing for the team’s inaugural home-opener, slated for Oct. 1 against Chicago at McMorran Arena. Adam Frank has led the charge for Port Huron, with four points through four games.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Defenseman Jack Callahan has been in a generous mood so far this season, dishing out four assists in his first six outings. That total is second among NAHL rearguards. He’s also tied for third among all league skaters with 24 shots on net.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: After missing out on a Robertson Cup finals berth for the first time in four years last May, the Bandits are already making tracks toward the national tournament, winning five of its first six contests, including a pair of overtime victories at the Showcase. Chris Clotti is tied for the league scoring lead with five goals over that span.
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Goaltender Tyler Marble was nearly impenetrable in the North Stars’ first three games, shutting out Chicago in the season-opener, and permitting just a single goal against Corpus Christi before blanking Austin at the Showcase. Through five games, the Lake Superior State University (CCHA) commit boasts a 1.40 goals-against average to go with a .954 save percentage.