Jets outskate T'birds in exhibition opener
The Janesville Jets defeat the Dubuque Thunderbirds 5-3 in their first game.
JANESVILLE As dress rehearsals go, the Janesville Jets couldn't have asked for much better Saturday night.
The NAHL expansion team showed speed and moxie in a 5-3 exhibition victory over perennial CSHL powerhouse Dubuque at the Janesville Ice Skating Center.
"I'd give our performance a 7," Janesville coach Dane Litke said. "There's always room for improvement."
It took the Jets just 57 seconds to get their first goal as Wes Hawkins turned a Dubuque giveaway in is own end into a goal. Rui Encarnacao stole the puck from the Thunderbirds and fed Hawkins, who beat Dubuque's Aaron Corey.
"I was surprised," Hawkins said. "I tried to get it on net and it went."
By the end of the night Hawkins had himself an old-fashioned Gordie Howe hat trick—a goal, an assist and a fight.
"I think they thought they were bigger and stronger than us, but we stood up to them," Hawkins said.
Hawkins and Dubuque's Ryan Bachman skirmished in the third quarter, a rumble Hawkins tried to put off.
"He kept saying all game 'Let's go. Then he jumped me.' The whole Dubuque team was like that. They wanted to fight all night. When we had five goals they kind of shut their mouths."
Dubuque tied the game moments after the Jets' first goal, but Janesville made it 2-1 at the first intermission on Mason Walters' power play goal. Walters scored two goals for the Jets.
"I was just feeling the crowd and having fun," Walters said.
His second goal came in the second period on what Walters called a "lunch bucket" play. After taking a pass from Hawkins, he powered his way through the crease and fired the puck past backup Dubuque goaltender A.J. Underwood.
The Jets made it 3-1 on Ethan Nauman's rocket from just in front of the left face-off circle.
What would a successful opening night be without a goal from the hometown hero?
Ross Mauermann, a prolific scorer for the Janesville Bluebirds, scored the Jets' fourth goal on a rebound blast with 8:42 to go in the second period. Mauermann also got the loudest ovation from the fans during pre-game introductions.
"The puck came to me and I just fired and shot," Mauermann said. "It was a lot of fun tonight."
The undisciplined Thunderbirds, who posted a 43-3-1 record in the CSHL last year, took 14 penalties and instigated three fights. Defenseman Dave Talmadge was ejected in the second period for being the third man to enter a fight. The Jets drew eight penalties.
Janesville goaltender Matt Wichorek turned away 24 of 27 shots. The Jets, who dominated possession of the puck for most of the game, fired 35 shots on goal.
The game drew an enthusiastic, cowbell-ringing crowd of 525.
"For an exhibition game on Labor Day weekend and being up against Badger football, we were pleased," Janesville General Manager John McCally said. "It's great that we won. From a GM perspective, I thought game-day operations went very well."
Team President Bill McCoshen spent much of the night greeting fans and supporters.
"It's hard to believe it's already here," McCoshen said of the exhibition opener. His idea to pursue a junior hockey team in Janesville materialized just 14 months ago.
"There's still a lot of work to be done."
The same two teams will meet again Wednesday night in Dubuque. The Jets will then play their inaugural season opener Saturday night when they host the Traverse City North Stars.
The fans who showed up Saturday night seemed to like what they saw.
"I'm definitely a Jets fan," said B.J. Finley, whose 9-year-old son Zach plays in Janesville's youth league. "I was excited when I found out Janesville was going to get an NAHL team. This is going to be contagious."
Jeff Russell and his wife Tina, who own Russ' Park Place, have shown their support of the Jets by becoming a host family for defenseman Michael Thompson.
"I haven't been to a hockey game since I was in high school," Jeff Russell said. "We like to stay active in the community. I think this team is going to be a good thing for the city of Janesville."
When the game ended, the Jets players lined up and banged their sticks on the ice as a salute to the fans.
JANESVILLE 5, DUBUQUE 2
Dubuque 1 1 1—3
Janesville 2 3 0—5
J—Wes Hawkins (Rui Encarnacao), :57. D—Luke Swardenski (power play), 3:21. J—Mason Walters (Jared Bertsch, Rodney LaLonde), 1:01.
J—Ethan Nauman (Hawkins), 1:01. J—Ross Mauermann (power play) (LaLonde), 11:28. J—Walters (Bertsch), 13:33. D—Jon Sinclair (Marcus Andary), 17:51.
D—Ryan Bachman (Dominic Eubanks), 2:41.
Shots on goal: Dubuque, 7-11-9—24, Janesville, 9-21-5—35.
Saves: Aaron Corey (D) 13, A.J. Underwood (D) 22, Matt Wichorek (J), 24.