The Jamestown High School boys hockey team was dialed in and focused during the holiday season.
"Things are on the up and up," JHS head coach Matt Stockert said. "We had a good trip between Christmas and New Year's. Anytime a team goes on the road for three straight days and has to play three straight games and comes away 3-0, a coach has to be pretty happy."
The Blue Jays now stand at 4-2-0 having defeated Hazen/Beulah, Bottineau/Rugby and Williston over the holiday break. As of Jan. 5, the Blue Jays are the No. 2 team in the Western Dakota Association (WDA). Minot still leads the conference at 5-0.
The Jays are slated to host Bottineau (2-2) this Friday (Jan. 8) at 7:30 p.m.
"I think we did really good for playing three games back to back, but there is always something we can improve on," JHS junior forward Hunter Nelson said. "It was definitely hard, but we just had to keep reminding ourselves that we would have plenty of time to rest after and we need the points to stay close to the top of the standings."
Nelson, the Blue Jays second-leading scorer, didn't let tired legs or a lineup change affect his game too much as he managed to rack up three goals and four assists, bringing his season point total to 12. Nolan Nenow still leads the team in total points with 14.
"I did make a switch there," Stockert said. "Hunter's not playing on the same line as Nolan and Jace (Thompson). There are still some things we are experimenting with and I don't see that changing in the near future. We want to make sure that we take care of the puck the best we possibly can.
"We'll just have to make sure we do our due diligence, making sure all the kids are improving out there during practice, doing things we ask them to do and we'll make the decisions come game time."
More lineup changes could be at hand against Bottineau as the Jays were close to letting their last game against the Braves slip away, ending in a 5-4 Jamestown victory.
"That one is a hard hockey game to get your head around as a coach because we basically outshot (Bottineau) 2-1 and the score was a one-goal game," Stockert said.
The head coach also mentioned his squad made some uncharacteristic errors that resulted in a couple of scores for the Braves. The Jays kicked off the three-game stretch on Dec. 28 with an 11-1 win at winless Hazen/Beulah (0-5-0).
"We need to step out on the ice and go to work and punch the clock and make sure whatever we get we are earning," Stockert said.
Nelson added: "I think after the Hazen game it gave us some confidence and we thought we were just going to walk all over them, but they showed up to play."
Brode Hillstrom, the Blue Jays' first-year varsity netminder, has been doing his part in making sure other teams have to earn their goals, too.
"Brode has played pretty well up to this point. He's hovering around that 90% save percentage," Stockert said. "I know he'd like it to be a little bit higher."
Hillstrom has saved 154 of 173 shots on net for a save percentage of 89.3 in the five games he has started in goal. Hillstrom did not start against Hazen as Stockert decided to give JV netminder Andrew Walz a crack at guarding between the posts.
"There was no specific reason, it's just a matter of when's the right time," Stockert said. "Against Hazen/Beulah, Andrew stepped in and did what he needed to do."
Walz made 15 saves for the Jays against Hazen/Beulah, posting a save percentage of 93.8%. The Jays' other newbie netminder, Carson Dewald, has yet to make a start for the varsity Blue Jay squad.
"The kids did what they needed to do to win three road games," Stockert said. "We'll just continue to buckle down and make sure we are better for Friday night."