24 in 24 Series: Springfield Jr. Blues
September 5, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Springfield Jr. Blues
Head Coach: Tony Zasowski (5th year)
2015-16 record: 29-25-6, 64 pts. (5th in the Midwest Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Brady Tomlak (47 points)
2016 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2016-17 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 16th @ Minnesota Magicians
Home opener: Friday, September 30th vs. Minnesota Wilderness
While the Springfield Jr. Blues improved over last season and finished the season with a record that was four games over the .500, they sputtered down the stretch of the regular season, winning just two of their last eight games and missed the playoffs in the Midwest Division by three points. While the 29 wins was an improvement for Tony Zasowski and his club, it marked the third straight year the Jr. Blues had missed out on the playoffs.
“We got off to a great start last year and really played well at stretches, but we faltered down the stretch in the second half and ran out of steam, so that is something we want to improve on heading into this season,” said Zasowski. “We have to have finish strong and play a full 60-game season.”
The Jr. Blues had a great season for NCAA commitments as 14 players with Jr. Blues ties committed to play NCAA hockey at some point during the 2015-16 season. “The fact that the NAHL had a record number of commitments and keeps accomplishing that each season is a testament to the league and its teams. We are happy to have contributed a significant number last season and we look for number to be even higher league-wide in 2016-17,” said Zasowski.
Zasowski continued… “I think the level of play in the NAHL makes it one of the best leagues in North America. It continues to rise each season and with a mix of younger and older players, provides everyone an opportunity for success. Every team is deep in talent, every team is committing players and we have had a great track record of players taken in recent NHL Drafts. It makes for a lot of positive points about the NAHL.”
Springfield opens the season with a road series against the Minnesota Magicians, who are new to the Midwest Division this season. Following that, they will take on Johnstown, Wichita Falls, New Jersey and Brookings at the 14th annual NAHL Showcase. “I expect our division to be a very tough challenge again,” said Zasowski. “I think Fairbanks and Janesville are always tough. I think league wide the coaches are so prepared that it really forces us to make sure we are doing everything we can to stay ahead of the game.”
Zasowski also said that he looks forward to the NAHL Showcase every year because of the scouts. “The sheer number of scouts is amazing and it is something we look forward to each season. I think there is a great vibe among all the NCAA and NHL scouts that they are being treated well and are going to see a great four days of hockey with something for everyone. It is really the #1 way we show off our product.”
Springfield and Zasowski also have some new help behind the bench as they hired Tyler Rennette as their new assistant coach. The North Bay, Ontario native spent the past two seasons as the Head Coach of the Peoria Mustangs in the NA3HL after playing nine professional seasons in the AHL, ECHL and the UHL. Rennette helped the Mustangs in the NA3HL to a combined record of 55-31-8 over the past two seasons and finished 2nd in Midwest Division last season. “The step up to Springfield feels like the natural move for my career, and I look forward to the challenge,” said Rennette.
Zasowski said that success starts with winning the Midwest Division. “It’s been a few years since we have been in the playoffs, but we want to win our division. We also want to have as many college commitments and player advancements as possible. We are going to be a big team this year, but we don’t have a lot of players coming back from last year, so that should make for an exciting start to the season because we aren’t quite to sure who is going to step and fulfill those roles,” said Zasowski.
“The thing that stands out to me about playing in Springfield is the tradition of the Jr. Blues and the loyalty of the fans. We are the NAHL’s oldest team heading into our 24th year this season and the loyalty and passion from our fans and our community has stood the test of time,” said Zasowski.
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Topeka RoadRunners