NA Now: Springfield Jr. Blues
The NA Now series features a look at all teams in the NAHL for the 2021-22 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the 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: Tyler Rennette (4th Season)
2020-21 record: Did not play
2021-22 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 10th vs. Janesville Jets
Home opener: Friday, October 1st vs. Minnesota Magicians
Like the Corpus Christi IceRays and Jamestown Rebels, the Springfield Jr. Blues opted out of the 2020-21 season. The decision marked an historic turn in NAHL history as it was the first season since 1993 that the Jr. Blues were not on the ice.
At the time of the decision, the State of Illinois was in Phase 4 of the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan which prohibited gatherings of over 50 people. That eliminated the ability to play games, regardless of fans. “It was a very difficult and trying time for all of the Springfield community and the great businesses that make up the Capital City Area,” said Dan Ferguson, Owner and Governor of the Jr. Blues. “However, we feel it was the right decision and we are excited about the roster we have assembled for the 2021-22 season and look forward to welcoming back our amazing fans to the Nelson Center and returning to normal operations within our office.”
Springfield Jr. Blues head coach Tyler Rennette, who is heading into his fourth season behind the bench, echoed Ferguson’s comments. “It was tough to sit out. I think given the circumstances in our area and state we didn’t have much choice and it was the right decision. I think the only drawback from a hockey side was losing our players. We got a lot of things done that we wanted to internally and we really got out on the road more and scouted hard for this upcoming season. We were able to see a lot more hockey than we usually do,” said Rennette. “We spent a lot of time early in the season last year focusing on solidifying our defense, starting with out defensemen. It’s a big challenge building a team from scratch, because it is nice to have some returning guys year to year to help build chemistry and provide some leadership. I like our group right now. We are a little young, but they are sponges and want to learn, so it’s been great so far.”
The Jr. Blues will be a big part of a much different look in the Midwest Division, which has gone from five teams last season to eight teams this season, which includes the return of the Jr. Blues, the addition of the Minnesota Wilderness from the Central Division, and a new expansion team in the Anchorage Wolverines. “We are eager to get playing divisional games. I have a feeling the Midwest is going to be very strong. I think the situation in Anchorage is going to be a really good one for the league and a fun one to be a part of. We look forward to going up there and basically just start traveling again,” said Rennette. “I think it’s exciting to be playing someone new. With an 8-team division, you aren’t going to be playing the same 3-4 teams every other weekend, so it’s a nice variety and we are excited to get going.”
The Jr. Blues open the season with two tough road games in Janesville, who won the Midwest Division regular season title last year. From there, it’s off to the NAHL Showcase. “We are excited to be back at the NAHL Showcase. It’s nice to have everyone in one building playing game and we look forward to being a part of it again. We’ve got four quality opponents in Jamestown, Odessa, Aberdeen, and Bismarck, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up and adjust throughout the event,” said Rennette.
The Jr. Blues are fortunate to have some NAHL experience on the roster, which includes four players who were a part of the team in 2019-20. Those returners included forward and UMass commit Jonathan Panisa, who recorded 29 points in 35 games, while also playing in the 2020 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. Forward Carson Jones is also back after spending last season helping the North Iowa Bulls win a Fraser Cup. During the 2019-20 season, he recorded 16 points in 49 games played with the Jr. Blues. Forwards Leo Bacallao and Cole Schneider also return this season after having played the 2019-20 season in Springfield. The Jr. Blues are high on former Northstar Knights (NAPHL) forward Joey Dosan. The 6’5/215 lbs. forward played the past two seasons in the MJHL in Canada.
“I think we were fortunate that we ended up with a few players who were here two years ago. It’s really going to help with leadership,” said Rennette. “We want to get better every single day and compete, but we want to win and be in the hunt. We have a good group here we like. They are hard-working and they are fast. We know we will make mistakes, but it’s how we correct those mistakes and respond that is going to dictate how successful we are.”
Next up: St. Cloud Norsemen