Nettell looks to turn around Jeffers hockey

HOUGHTON — If they had suffered through the types of injuries the Hancock Bulldogs suffered through, the Jeffers Jets hockey team would have felt good about how their 2016-17 season played out. Instead, they dealt with something potentially more crippling: a midseason coaching change.

Last season, the Jets started the season with first-year coach Justin Scott, but after 2/3 of the season he was finished after he was let go and replaced with interim coach Patrick Nettell. The team struggled somewhat down the stretch and found themselves on the losing end of a 7-0 loss in the regional tournament to the Calumet Copper Kings.

To make matters even worse, the Jets graduated their top four scorers and their top goaltender from a year ago, which makes Nettell’s first full season with the club even more challenging. However, he feels that his team is up to the task.

“I really look forward to this year,” said Nettell. “I think we are going to do all right.”

One advantage Nettell has as he looks to the season is the fact that he has seen most of the players on his roster at some point in junior hockey, so the players and their parents know him and what he will expect from them.

“One of the nice things about this is that I coached a lot of these kids in junior hockey,” said Nettell. “So I know all the parents. It’s huge. They kind of know the way I want the game played.”

A lot of pressure sits squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Noah Nettell. Noah saw action in just four contests last season, winning one game. His father and coach believes that he is ready to take the next step.

“He wants it,” said Patrick. “He wants that No. 1 spot.”

Noah’s backup this season will be a freshman, Evan Pietila, who will have some learning to do to catch up to the speed of the high school game, but Patrick feels that he has the ability to do quickly.

With the loss of steady defenders Steven Dudenas and Darren Nordstrom to graduation, Evan Larson moves to the top of the depth chart this season. Evan, who had four multi-point games last season as part of a one-goal, 11-point campaign, will be paired with Elias “Buzz” Rajala.

The duo played together some last season and should provide the foundation for a blue line corps that will be learning on the fly.

“They are a really good pair,” said Patrick. “They are a solid defensive [pair]. They will be really tough to beat.”

Dylan Nettell joins the Jets full-time this season after spending most of last season on the taxi squad. He will be joined this season by two new faces in Drew Harris, younger brother of former Jets skater Nick Harris and Ethan Therrian, younger brother of Brady, one of the Jets’ expected leaders offensively.

Up front, the Jets are looking to find some skaters who are ready to fill the skates left behind by Brendan Middleton and Steven Suhonen. Middleton was the offensive catalyst of the Jets the last three seasons and led the team with 31 goals last year.

Senior Dominick Nettell and Matthew Halonen are two such skaters who could share those duties this season.

Dominick is a prototypical power forward, not afraid to get into the corners and also crash the net. He was an assistant captain last season and is the highest-scoring returning forward having scored nine goals and 19 points last season.

Halonen sees the ice well and can move the puck quickly to his teammates. He is the highest returning forward in terms of assists, as he picked up 12 last season as part of a 17-point campaign.

Michael Johnson rounds out the Jets’ top line in the early season, but he will likely see challenges from Jake Marcotte and Clay Larson. Hunter and Brady Therrian both return this season as well, giving the Jets a large chunk of their top nine forwards back this season.

Patrick feels that Brady is ready to bounce back from a rough year last season.

“Brady is actually looking really, really good this year,” said Patrick. “Compared to last year, it is a night and day difference.”

Jackson Rocchi moves up from the taxi squad last season and he will look to build upon a solid, albeit brief, debut last season where he picked up one goal while seeing playing time in four games.

Three new faces hope to give the Jets some depth this season in Kellen Klein, David Storm and Luke Marcotte.

The Jets open the season this Friday when they face Cheboygan in a game at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. In December, the Jets will take on Escanaba and Hancock at the MacInnes. To close the season, they will face Hancock, Houghton and Escanaba all on the road before the regional tournament.