Pavelski won a state championship in high school and the NCAA Division I title at the University of Wisconsin. In fact, the only “home-based” hockey he played out of state was for a junior team two hours from the Wisconsin border in Waterloo, Iowa.
So when a group of Wisconsin investors asked him to be a partial owner of a junior team in Janesville, Wisc., Pavelski said “yes” to an involvement with the Jets, a team in the North American Hockey League.
“I respect where I came from, I loved growing up there, loved playing college hockey there, so I’ve always wanted to give back,” Pavelski said. “I know that without a lot of those chances, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Hopefully, there’s a kid out there who can have the opportunities I had because of the Jets.”
Janesville will be making its debut in the NAHL, a Junior A league that’s one step below America’s premier junior league, the United States Hockey League. Pavelski said he hopes playing for the Jets will help players enhance their hockey careers and help them earn scholarships with some of the nation’s top college programs.
“For a lot of kids, it will be a developmental league to get to the USHL,” he said. “There will even be a handful of kids that go Division I and then quite a few who will go Division III.”
The Jets will be the lone NAHL team in Wisconsin.
“There are a lot of homegrown Wisconsin kids that are right up to that level,” he said referring to juniors. “We’re trying to draw on the Wisconsin kids and bring them in while keeping them close to home. At the same time, they’ll be a little bit away from their families.”
Although Pavelski wishes he could spend more time helping develop the players, that’s not realistic because he’s busy playing for the Sharks. However, he’s going to try his best to stay involved.
“I’ll be looking at their scores and stats, different things like that throughout the season and see how they’re doing that way,” he said. “If I can get up there once or twice during the year, that would be good.”
Janesville is close to Madison, the home of the University of Wisconsin and where Pavelski helped the Badgers win the 2005-06 National Championship.
“Little Joe” (as they call him in San Jose) has never owned a hockey team. But he seems to know the two major ingredients for success — player development and community involvement.
“Obviously we’d like to produce a good team, and the only way to do that is to develop players and move them on to better teams,” Pavelski said. “That’s what’s going to make it a place where people want to come.”
Pavelski really sounds like a team owner when talking about what the Jets must do to be successful.
“For Janseville to succeed and for us to help bolster the city,” he said. “The community has got to be on our side. So far it’s been good with sponsorships.”
And while Pavelski can sound like someone who’s spent some time in the conference room, he’s also spent time in the locker room. He knows what has to happen for the players to have a memorable and solid experience.
“You create different relationships and learn how to work with those relationships,” he said. “When you get into a room with 20-25 kids from all over the country, you don’t know what anyone is thinking. You wonder, ‘How do you connect with them? If you embrace the experience, you can mature quite a bit as a person.”