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.
It was an active off-season for the Janesville Jets, who for the first time in their four-year history will have a new head coach behind the bench as Joe Dibble takes over for the departed Dane Litke. Since they joined the league back during the 2009-10 season, the Jets have steadily improved their record each season and last season was no exception as the Jets won a franchise record 37 wins.
For much of the 2011-12 season, particularly in the first half, the Jets were one of the best teams in the league with one of the best team defenses. They went a perfect 4-0 at the NAHL Showcase to begin the season, and that was then followed by a 10-0-1 start. The team then put together a nine-game winning streak in December and early January. However, the Jets cooled off towards the end of the season winning just three of their last 11 games. Ironically in the playoffs, the Jets faced off against Joe Dibble and the Springfield Jr. Blues. The Jr. Blues pulled the upset of the #2-seeded Jets in the fifth and deciding game and for the third straight season, a playoff series win eluded the Jets.
Enter Dibble this summer, who had spent the past four years in Springfield as both the head and assistant coach for the Jr. Blues. “I was very familiar with the Jets organization having played them close to 40 times the last three seasons and was very aware of the great amount of success they have had in a short time,” said Dibble. “It is amazing how passionate the community and ownership is regarding the team and I shared their vision for continuing that success and advancing players onto the next level.
One of the things that Dibble had to address first was the veteran players who could return to the team this season and who all were recruited by someone else other than Dibble. With over half the roster last season comprised of 19 and 20-year-olds, Dibble said that he had to go young this season. “We are only returning four veteran players from last season, but luckily for me those four have shown some phenomenal leadership thus far,” said Dibble. “They understand what it takes to win, they are a motivated group and are showing the young guys what it takes to play in this league. They are all natural leaders and have been a huge help to me in the transition.”
Dibble suggested that the Jets could be one of the youngest, if not the youngest team in the league this season based upon their initial roster and the fact that the Jets were an older group last season. “We really had to replace almost an entire hockey team, but one of the most important things to me when recruiting a player is his character. I want a guy who is going to be involved with the organization and in the community and represent himself the right way,” said Dibble. “I think the one thing that stands out thus far with this group of guys is our speed and skating. It is by far one of the fastest teams I have had in my time coaching and I think we are going to surprise a lot of people with our team speed.”
Although Dibble will have close to 20 players that are rookies or new to the NAHL, he said that the group has a lot of maturity. “Most of these guys are coming from programs where they have traveled and they have played long and grinding seasons, so I don’t think the shock for them will be as big as it normally would,” said Dibble. “We have to focus on getting better as a team every day. Being in the Division we are in (the North) we are in for a real test. There are some very good teams who are well coached and the competition is going to be outstanding. We have to establish an identity early and we are going to have to out-skate and out-work teams if we want to have success.”
The four veterans who are returning to the Jets this season are forwards Conor Lemirande and Eric Carlson, defenseman Bryan Kronberger and goaltender Brock Kautz. Lemirande, who is a native of Janesville, has been named team captain this season. All three players saw considerable time in a Jets uniform last season and Kautz appeared in 15 games in between the pipes.
As for the new players, Dibble said that he is particularly eager to see 18-year-old Canadian Zach Avolio play. “Zach can absolutely fly and he has a great skill set,” said Dibble. Others rookies Dibble expects to make an impact are Jack Billings, 16, from Culver Academy, and defenseman Kyle Halladay, 18, from the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes of the NAPHL. “Billings is an unbelievable offensive talent for his age and Halladay is a big, physical defenseman who developed into a well-rounded player while in the PHL.”
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Jamestown Ironmen.