Springfield, Illinois – The Springfield Jr. Blues split their final regular season games against the Janesville Jets this past weekend. On Friday the Jr. Blues fell to the Jets 4-2, but bounced back with a big 4-3 overtime victory on Saturday night. The Jr. Blues finished the 2018-19 NAHL season with a 33-22-4-1 record for 71 points and a 3rd place finish in the Midwest Division.
Friday’s game had major implications in the divisional standings. If the Jr. Blues won both games over the weekend against the Jets and the Minnesota Magicians lost both of their games against the Chippewa Steel, then the Jr. Blues would finish in 2nd place and earn home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Jets, however, would have different plans as to how the weekend would go.
The Jets opened up the scoring early in Friday’s contest and took a 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission. Caden Villegas would score his 9th goal of the season to open the 2nd period and tie the game up momentarily. Janesville would add two more goals in the 2nd period to take a 3-1 lead into the 2nd intermission. A 3rd period strike from defenseman Sam Sterne cut the deficit to 3-2, but the Jets would regain their two goal lead and never look back. With the 4-2 loss, the Jr. Blues sealed their 3rd place finish. Jack Williams picked up the loss in the contest, stopping 17 of 20 shots. Henry Graham made his debut in relief of Williams and stopped 11 of 12.
With the playoffs set in stone, Saturday’s contest became a game of pride and bragging rights as we honored our 12 senior players before the game. Ryan Murray, Sam Sterne, Cade Groton, Nikita Kozyrev, Nigel Nelson, Brendan Aird, Braden Stewart, Ben and David Schmidling, Max Brainin, Brandon Puricelli, and Nick Techel all suited up for their final junior hockey games of their careers. After this season, many of them will continue their play at NCAA Division 1 or Division 3 schools, while others will turn to the ACHA to continue their careers.
With emotions high, the Jets once again struck first to take a 1-0 lead early. But the Jr. Blues would not let this game get away from them. Caden Villegas scored his 2nd goal in as many games and his 10th of the season to tie the game 1-1. Ben Schmidling would prove that his timing is impeccable as he gave the Jr. Blues their first lead of the weekend with 0.1 seconds left in the opening period. At the intermission the Jr. Blues led 2-1 and had the momentum squarely in their corner.
Nick Techel would contribute a goal early in the 2nd period to increase the lead to 3-1 and seemingly put the game away for the Jr. Blues. But the Jets would battle back with a goal in the 2nd and a goal in the 3rd to tie the game 3-3. 60 minutes would prove to not be enough time to determine a winner, and the game would head to overtime. In overtime Graham would save the Jr. Blues from a penalty kill early in the extra frame, and Max Brainin would send the crowd home happy with his 20th goal of the season with less than :20 left in overtime for a 4-3 Jr. Blues win.
Henry Graham stopped 28 of 31 shots to earn his first NAHL victory on Saturday night while defenseman Kobe Pane made his Jr. Blues and NAHL debut as well. Both players are currently signed to tenders for the 2019-20 season.
Jr. Blues Notes:
- The Jr. Blues will face off against the Minnesota Magicians in the 1st round of the playoffs. Games 1 and 2 will be in Minnesota on April 12th and 13th, while Games 3 and 4 will be in Springfield on April 19th and 20th. Game 5 would be back in Minnesota on April 21st. Games 4 and 5 are both if necessary.
- Brandon Puricelli finished the 2018-19 season with 30 goals and 50 assists for 80 points. He set the Jr. Blues record for assists in a season and ranks 2nd in points in a season. Puricelli finished the season on a 14 game point streak and finished 4th in points in the NAHL.
- With his overtime goal, Max Brainin reached the 20 goal plateau for the first time in his career. The goal also gave the Jr. Blues four 20+ goal scorers this season after having none last season.
- Brendan Aird had 4 assists on Saturday night giving him 11 points overall in his time with Springfield (22 GP; 1 G, 10 A).
- Ben Schmidling finished up his 2018-19 campaign with 1 goal and 2 assists on the weekend to bump his total points on the season to 68 (37 goals, 31 assists). Ben finished 3rd in the NAHL in goals and is currently on a 10 game point streak.