Joe Pavelski has three reasons to be happy this year.
No. 1, and most important, he and his wife became first-time parents when their son was born in late October.
No. 2, his team, the San Jose Sharks, have rebounded from a slow start to the season and are now third in the Western Conference and leading the Pacific Division.
No. 3, his other team, the Janesville (Wis.) Jets, are in second place in the North Division of the North American Hockey League, a Tier II Junior A level league. Through games of the past weekend, the second-year franchise is 33-15-3 and seven points behind the division leaders. With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Jets should qualify for postseason play.
“I’d like to say I take a little credit,” Pavelski, a Wisconsin native who owns a small percentage of the Jets, said of the team’s success. “But I can’t take any credit.”
Instead, Pavelski praised Janesville Head Coach and General Manager of Hockey Operations Dane Litke and his staff. The Jets have set a franchise record in wins and have allowed the fewest goals (103) in the NAHL this season.
“The coaching staff has really done a good job,” Pavelski said. “You never know what you’re going to get with an expansion franchise, especially in junior. But they’ve done a good job with recruiting and setting up the organization to draw some kids who want to play and have some skill.
“The guys in Janesville are doing all of the work and deserve all of the credit.”
In fact, Pavelski hasn’t even been asked to make talent evaluations. That may come as a surprise to some, considering he plays in the National Hockey League, is an Olympic silver medalist and has won an NCAA Championship with the University of Wisconsin.
“They probably have more experience in that than I do,” Pavelski said in giving credit to the Jets coaching staff. “I’m out there playing. They’ve done a great job moving players and understanding the kid at that age and what he can bring to the table.”
Pavelski, who’s in his second year as a minority owner, didn’t actively seek participation in a junior franchise. One day, he and a friend talked about “how cool it would be to get involved with a junior team in Wisconsin, since there aren’t that many junior teams in Wisconsin.”
Through a friend, Pavelski met Bill McCoshen, who’s president of the Jets. One thing led to another and Pavelski became a minority owner.
The initial goal was to fill the roster with kids solely from Wisconsin. When Jets management realized that wasn’t a realistic plan, they just wanted to make sure they could attract Tier II Junior A level talent to stay in the state. Before the Jets, the only Junior A level club in Wisconsin was the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, a Tier I Junior A level league.
The Jets play in a league that can help kids advance to the USHL or to college. “It’s a stepping stone,” Pavelski said of playing in the NAHL. “It may be a little younger kid (than those in the USHL) or a kid that might not have that skill level and is looking to develop it a little more. You’re going to see a lot of good Division I players come out of the NAHL.”
Pavelski can take pride in knowing that the team’s top scorer, forward Ross Mauermann, is one of three Janesville natives (goaltender David Jacobson and forward Aaron Jacobson are the others) on the Jets. In addition, forward Connor McBride, who’s second in scoring, is from nearby Hartland. There are eight Jets from Wisconsin. “It’s good for the town and for the team,” Pavelski said.
Two time zones and more than 1,700 miles separate Pavelski from the Jets. On top of that, the demands of playing in the NHL and fatherhood allow him little time to get more involved with the team. So Pavelski, who’s seen only a couple of games, relies on the Internet for the latest news on the Jets.
He’s looking forward to the offseason to become more active with his investment. “I’ll try to get around and catch a meeting or two during the summer,” Pavelski said. “Hopefully, I can be more involved.”
Pavelski isn’t the only one with NHL ties involved in NAHL ownership. Ex-St. Louis Blues forward and current radio analyst Kelly Chase is a part-owner of the St. Louis Bandits, who are ahead of the Jets in the North Division. In addition, ex-NHL players Dallas Drake (Traverse City), Moe Mantha (Michigan) and Craig Patrick (Wenatchee) are with team ownership groups as well.
One also wonders if the team ownership experience is giving Pavelski thoughts about a future in a team’s front office, whether at the NAHL or NHL level. “Who knows,” Pavelski said. “Hopefully, that’s a long ways away. We’ll see.”
This article was reprinted with permission from the San Jose Sharks.