By Jim DenHollander
The Dells Ducks turned in a solid effort in its final pre-season exhibition contest at Janesville Friday night and one player in particular made a big impression.
Jake Stima, officially named team captain of the Dells Ducks just 24 hours earlier did it all for the Ducks in its contest against the Jets. The defender limited opposition opportunities, set up the offense by lugging the puck through the neutral zone and was a threat in the offensive zone as well.
In other words, it was just another typical game for the Roscoe, IL native.
Everyone loves watching flashy defender, including Janesville Jets head coach Joe Dibble who asked Stima to play the following night – this time in the Jets’ uniform.
Dibble, a good friend of Ducks’ head coach Bill Zaniboni has had his eye on Stima for some time and decided after Friday’s game he wanted to get a closer look as his team was playing another exhibition contest.
Wearing the Jets’ uniform, Stima admitted after the game to being a little nervous at the start.
“It’s different. I played with a bunch of the Dells’ guys all of last year and then playing with new guys today, it was different. I had to get used to it and then by the end of the game, we were clicking,” said Stima a few minutes after the game and just a few moments after Dibble asked him to relocate to Janesville permanently.
It wasn’t a perfect game and both Stima and Dibble know there is work ahead for the 20-year-old defender, but he finished the contest with a goal, assist and a plus-4 overall. It’s pretty hard to turn a guy away after that.
For Stima, the invitation came as a surprise after Friday’s game.
“I don’t know. I just tried to play my heart out last night,” said Stima. “They called me up last night and today, I just tried to play my heart out and get called up for the whole season. They want to look at me for the whole season now, so, next week we’re going to play Team USA.” The Jets will travel to the Detroit area to play the U-17 National team this coming weekend as a final tune-up for the regular season which begins at the Blaine Showcase event the following Wednesday.
Dibble confirmed after the game, he has been watching Stima for some time.
“You know, with Jake, it’s a kid we’ve always known about,” said Dibble after Saturday’s game. “Even last year when he was playing with the Ducks. It’s a kid we’ve always kept on our radar.
“The one thing with us, we were the youngest team in the league last year, so, the age was a big thing with us and our biggest thing was taking the young group that we had and we built our team for a year out. We didn’t want to bring in anybody that was older than a ’95, so we tried to bring in only ‘95’s and 96’s last year once we picked our team.
“Jake was a kid we’ve always known about and we actually were down at the tryout a few weeks ago in the Dells. He obviously played well there. Last night, we felt, he moved his feet and he does a good job. He’s right at this level and for us, being right up the road from them; it was one of those things where, if we need a defenseman we were going to obviously look at Jake and what he was doing.
“He played well enough last night. He did better than some of the defensemen we had here last night. With me, it’s, I don’t care where you play, where you’re from, what’s your name, number whatever. If you can be a good character kid and at the same time, help our hockey club, I’m going to give you an opportunity.”
Dibble said after the game, there were a few shifts we would like to go over again with Jake, but only a few out of a full game which is not bad for a guy making his Tier II debut.
“We were extremely happy with him,” said Dibble. “He worked hard and that’s the biggest thing. He didn’t come in with any attitude or anything like that. He came in to earn a spot and that’s what he did.”
Afterwards, Dibble said he committed to take Stima to play in the final exhibition tests and he is planning to move forward with Stima as a member of his team. He credited job of Coach Bill Zaniboni and his assistant Jake Hebeisen who played a big part in getting their star to the next level.
“As of right now, the plan is to give Jake an opportunity to keep that spot, or, you know, come back to the Ducks. Right now, we’ll be talking to Bill Zaniboni. We’ve been taking with Jake (Hebeisen) here a little bit. But, as of right now, we have full intentions of pulling him up. It’s one of those things where, that’s what we’re here for and that’s what this organization, with Bill, what they want to do and that’s a good thing. That’s what we do here with our guys and the USHL. It’s a good pipeline and a good feeder thing. The kid deserves it. Jake played his way onto this hockey club right now.”
For the Ducks who head into the Minnesota Junior Hockey League season Thursday, there is some sadness, but mostly pride at seeing one of the best players to ever wear its jersey move on to the next level. Almost the entire team made the 90 minute trek to watch and cheer on their – now former – captain in action on Saturday night.
Team president John Schwarz summed up the team’s pride.
“Jacob had a goal and a couple of assists the next night with a Jets uniform and I can’t be more proud of Jacob’s off ice and on ice accomplishments with the Dells Ducks,” said Schwarz.
“Hopefully Jacob can work hard on the ice in Janesville, because the Janesville Jets are the hardest working organization the Dells Ducks ever played and the players the Jets put on their roster are not only high level players but high character off the ice as I was able to talk to many of them.”