Springfield, Illinois – The 2019-20 Springfield Jr. Blues season is officially in the books, albeit a few weeks earlier than normal. While the results on the ice weren’t always what we were expecting, the hard work and dedication that our players, staff, and volunteers put in is a resounding vote of confidence for what’s to come next season. Here is our season in review with individual awards listed at the bottom.
Our 27th season in the North American Hockey League began in late August when nearly 30 players descended on Springfield, IL to battle for their spot on our opening night roster. After nearly six months of hard work and 54 battles, the Jr. Blues wrapped up their season with a 16-34-2-2 record for 36 points. It was a disappointing finish but there were many bright spots throughout the season.
Four current and two former players represented the Jr. Blues at the 2020 Top Prospects Tournament, two more than the previous years event. Jackson Salt, Aaron Swanson, and Max Osborne all played for the Central Division Team, scoring 2 assists, no points, and two assists respectively. Leo Bacallao, Jonathan Panisa, and Caden Villegas represented the Red Selects Team, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist, 1 goal and 2 assists, and 1 goal respectively.
The Top Prospects Tournament is a vital tool that the NAHL uses for players to be exposed to collegiate scouts, with many players receiving commitments after the event. However, the Jr. Blues lone in-season college commitment came back in November as rookie netminder Ryan Wilson committed to Army-West Point where he will join Jr. Blues alum Patrick Smyth. Hunter Longhi (Harvard), Jonathan Panisa (UMass-Amherst), Caden Villegas (Union), and Joe Sharib (Union) each were committed to their respective schools prior to this season.
But not all of our highlights this season came as a result of on-ice competition. Each year we work to raise as much money to contribute to the fight against the cancer at our annual Pink the Rink game. This year we once again worked with the American Cancer Society’s Real Men Wear Pink campaign and through donations, fundraising, and our jersey auction we raised $6,275! Our Assistant Coach Todd Pococke represented the Jr. Blues in this year’s campaign and he wound up being the top fundraiser in the Springfield area this year. An overall tremendous campaign that strengthens our bond with not only our sponsors but to our community as well.
As we wrap up our review of the 2019-20 season, it’s time for us to reveal our individual team award winners:
Team MVP: Caden Villegas
Villegas finished up his second season with the Jr. Blues this year by leading the entire team in goals (15), assists (25), points (40), power play goals (5), power play assists (12), shots (119), and was tied for first in game winning goals (2). The Union College commit played in all 54 games this season, the only Jr. Blues player to play in each game. He was a vital cog in the top power play unit while also seeing ample amount of time in extra man advantage situations. Villegas played in his 100th NAHL game in February and has amassed 26 goals and 35 assists in 106 career games for the Jr. Blues.
Rookie of the Year: Hunter Longhi
Longhi joined the Jr. Blues after spending the beginning of the season with the Bismarck Bobcats. He did not register any points for Bismarck, but after a slow start in Springfield Longhi went on to pace all rookies in goals (12), assists (18), points (30), power play goals (4), and shots (99). The Harvard commit saw an increase in power play time as the season went on, and as he continued to grow into a more well-rounded player, saw more time in even strength play as well.
Most Improved: Carson Jones
Jones was drafted by the Jr. Blues in the 2019 NAHL Draft in the 5th Round, #122 overall and joined the team during training camp in August. A hard working two way forward, Jones was a mainstay in defensive and penalty kill situations. He finished the season playing in 49 games and tallied 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points, finishing eighth in team scoring. The Eden Prairie, MN native has yet to commit to a collegiate program, but as a 2001 birth year he still has two more years of junior hockey left.
Top Defenseman: Jeremy Gabriele
Gabriele was drafted by the Jr. Blues in the 2019 NAHL Draft in the 4th Round, #96 overall. He made an immediate impact from the blue line for both his offensive abilities and defensive work. Gabriele appeared in 53 games for the Jr. Blues this season, racking up 3 goals and 13 assists. At the conclusion of the shortened season, Gabriele announced his commitment to Endicott College; EC is a NCAA Division 3 program out of Massachusetts that plays in the Coastal Commonwealth Conference (CCC).
Standard of Excellence: Giovanni Carabelli
Carabelli concluded his fourth and final junior hockey season with this being his third season in Springfield. The Shelby Township, MI native set career highs in games played (52), assists (15), points (20), penalty minutes (58), and was named Captain after Aaron Swanson was traded at the end of January. Carabelli finished his junior hockey career with 200 NAHL games played, 21 goals, 36 assists, and 116 penalty minutes. He also played in 7 games for the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks where he scored two goals. In his time here in Springfield, Gino has been a fan favorite for his kindness and generosity to those of all ages. A common scene at the end of warmups would be seeing Carabelli handing a puck to a young fan as he exited the ice. During post-game skates Carabelli would spend as much time with each kid as possible, often being the last player off the ice. His dedication to our organization and his love for our community will forever be remembered.
Thank you to all of our sponsors, fans, staff, and volunteers for contributing to the success of our 2019-20 season. We are excited to begin working on our plans for next season, and as more information becomes available, we will relay it to you as soon as possible. Best of luck to Jeremy Gabriele and Giovanni Carabelli in their future endeavors, and we look forward to seeing our returning players this fall.