September 11, 2017
The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 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: Tyler Rennette (1st Year)
2016-17 record: 27-28-5, 59 pts. (5th in the Midwest Division)
2016-17 leading scorer: Matt Long (52 points)
2017 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2017-18 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Saturday, September 16th vs. Janesville Jets
Home opener: Saturday, September 16th vs. Janesville Jets
It was a roller coaster ride of a season for the Springfield Jr. Blues in 2016-17. As the NAHL’s oldest franchise, the Jr. Blues continued their strong tradition of being an NCAA commitment factory.
On the ice, the Jr. Blues were again around the .500 mark for the entire season, but as the regular season wore down, were in contention for a playoff spot until the very last weekend. A stretch of five straight losses in mid to late March put the Jr. Blues in too deep of a hole to climb out of.
The Jr. Blues philosophy the past couple of seasons has always been about attracting and developing younger talent. Traditionally, the Jr. Blues are always one of the younger teams in the NAHL each season and last year was no exception. With inexperience also comes inconsistency on the ice, but it also draws the scouts. As a result, the Jr. Blues again were among the NAHL leaders last season with 15 NCAA commitments. In the last two years, the Jr. Blues have committed almost 30 players to the NCAA.
Forward Ryan Leibold (Army), an NAPHL grad, was one of those 15 NCAA commitments and also won the NAHL’s Academic Achievement Award last season. Leading scorer Matt Long also made an NCAA Division I commitment (Canisius).
The off-season was full of change for Springfield as head coach Tony Zasowski, who had been at the helm the last five years, accepted a full-time position as the new Director of Player Personnel for the North American Hockey League, in addition to being named the new NAPHL Director. In his place, the Jr. Blues announced they promoted then assistant coach Tyler Rennette to the position of head coach.
“I am very thankful for the time I spent with Coach Zasowski as his assistant, and I look forward to continuing on the Springfield tradition of developing student athletes. I am very excited about the opportunity to be able to be a head coach in a league as prestigious as the NAHL,” said Rennette. “I think my time coaching in the NA3HL really prepared me for this because I learned a lot about player, team, and game management.”
Rennette said that when he was recruiting in the off-season, he wanted to find players that not only had the skill, but most importantly, the speed. “I am a very offensive-minded coach and it all starts with speed for me. We want to push and dictate the pace of play,” said Rennette.
Rennette also said that building the right culture is something that is important to continue. “Tony (Zasowski) did a great job of building the right culture here and we had a very good group of guys and chemistry in the lockerroom. That is something I want to continue. It is key on getting the team back to the playoffs. I think we have the type of group coming in that will be able to contend to win the Midwest. That is our #1 goal,” said Rennette.
The strength of the Jr. Blues will undoubtedly be the defense as the team returns six players from last year’s team along the blue line. That includes Jack Nickels (24 points), Jordan Muzzillo (21 points), Connor Matsinger (16 points), Chase Mickelson (20 points), Fletcher Fineman (8 points), and Mark Leach (7 points). “I am expecting big things from every one of these guys. It is a unique situation to be in because you always worry a little bit about your defensive leadership and consistency at the start of each season, but with these six guys back, that is a group that we feel confident in and comfortable with,” said Rennette.
“The NAHL is a great league to play in as a player. The events offer such great exposure and it is a great opportunity for our players to play on a game-by-game basis in front of so many scouts. I am excited about the opportunity for me and my players and we hope to take the next step,” said Rennette.
Next up in the 23 in 23 series: Topeka RoadRunners