The ‘24 in 24’ series features an in-depth look into all 24 NAHL teams, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Saturday, September 8th.
‘24 in 24’ will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interview with all 24 NAHL head coaches as they prognosticate and break down their outlook for the upcoming season.
Springfield Jr. Blues
A new era begins in 2012-13 for the league’s longest running team, the Springfield Jr. Blues. The Jr. Blues, who began play back in the 1993-94 season, are now under the ownership of Dan Ferguson and FERZOW, LLC, who acquired the Jr. Blues back in late April. The acquisition comes on the heels of a season in which the Jr. Blues advanced to the Midwest Division Finals last season, only to fall in four games to the eventual National Runner-Up, the St. Louis Bandits.
The season did not start well for Springfield, as they won just one of their first seven games. However, things really turned around the second half of the season as they only lost seven times in regulation from January through March. In the playoffs, the Jr. Blues, who were seeded 3rd, upset the #2-seeded Janesville Jets in five games to advance to the division finals.
With new ownership also came a change behind the bench. Joe Dibble, who had guided the Jr. Blues in 2011-12, took the head coaching job in Janesville, so in stepped new head coach and general manager Tony Zasowski. Zasowski, who is an Illinois native, most recently had been coaching both the 18U and 16U San Jose Jr. Sharks teams in the North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL). This past season, his 16U team won the PHL’s regular season title and in 2010-11 his 18U team did the same, along with winning the California Tier I AAA State Championship.
“The PHL was great training ground as a coach and the competition forced me to prepare my team to be at their best for every game,” said Zasowski back when he took the head job in Springfield. “In addition to the competition, it fostered many great relationships with junior and college coaches, particularly in the NAHL. One thing I have learned is that the players we have recruited are really hungry for an opportunity and that is one of the things that really stands out about the NAHL.”
Zasowski said that since taking over, the transition for he and Ferguson has been a good one. “The transition has been busy as we have built a new staff. We have looked to re-establish relationships with our long-time sponsors and build an elite training program for our players,” said Zasowski. “From a business standpoint we have reached out to local businesses and have stressed that we want to help drive them business as much as them supporting us. We also have worked hard to promote season tickets and done some promotions to re-engage people who have supported the Jr. Blues in the past.”
The Jr. Blues have a rich and storied tradition, as they are one of only seven teams in NAHL history to have won a Robertson Cup multiple times. In addition to getting back to the winning tradition of the past, Zasowski said that he wants to build a team that is focused on player development and advancement. “We wanted to build a team of NCAA Division I prospects. We wanted a group of hard working players that will work over the next eight months to develop, win and strive to play NCAA Hockey,” said Zasowkski. “We also want to be student-athlete driven as we looked at the test scores and GPA. We also wanted players with character, as we hold our players to high standard as they will be asked to do a lot of community service and interaction within the community.”
Upon completion of their main camp in late July, Zasowski said that the Jr. Blues strengths will be energy and speed. “I expect the team to work hard and compete every shift. I think we will force other teams to be at their best every night,” said Zasowski.
The Jr. Blues players reported yesterday for training camp and Zasowski pin-pointed some players who he expects to make an impact from the start. “I think guys like Mitch Rogge and Cody Dixon come to mind. Both know what it takes to play in this league and I expect them to mentor our younger players,” said Zasowski. “We also traded for Ryan Atkinson from Odessa, who played in every NAHL game last season and is a player I am familiar with having played for me in the PHL in San Jose.”
As far as new players go, Zasowski is going young with players like Trevor Stone, who is a native of Springfield and former Jr. Sharks 16U players Oliver Takacsi-Nagy and Ji Young Li, who are both just 17-years-old.
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Soo Eagles.