Photo by Rena Laverty
For U18 forward Justin Janicke, hockey has been in his blood since birth. The Maple Grove, Minnesota, native’s father, Curtis, played four years of college hockey at the University of Notre Dame, culminating in 144 points over four years with the Fighting Irish. Justin’s older brother, Trevor, an NTDP alum (2016-18) and current Irish forward, has always been someone he has looked up to in life and in hockey. And of course, a little brotherly competition never hurt his love of the game.
“My dad definitely wanted me and my brother to play hockey and to just follow after him,” the younger Janicke said. It definitely came from him and then just watching my brother grow up playing hockey and I always kind of try to do better than him at everything and I just want to one-up him.”
Justin took after Trevor in their paths through hockey, first starring at Maple Grove High School before coming to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Michigan. Justin racked up 49 points in 24 games in his lone season of high school hockey before earning an invitation to the NTDP. While lots of younger players come up playing youth travel hockey, Janicke says he loved his time playing high school hockey.
“You’re kind of just in this bubble, that’s all I knew growing up in Minnesota. I definitely loved playing for my school and there's a lot of good memories from it and just playing with student sections and stuff like that. I had a good freshman year with that team and then was able to come to the NTDP and it honestly, at the time, was a really hard decision to leave.”
Trevor again led by example a few years earlier, leaving Maple Grove for the NTDP. Seeing his older brother take the route helped ease the thought process for Justin.
“Watching him go through it [the NTDP] and just hearing the stories he had and all the good times they had, even the 12-hour bus rides. It definitely helped to hear all his stories and just to watch him and just watch how much better he got and how much he enjoyed his time here, it definitely helped me make my decision.”
Was there any uncertainty from Justin about representing his country?
“Leaving home was tough and there was a little hesitation. There was a little bit of hold back, just because I love my city so much and playing for Maple Grove was so great. Looking back on it, I definitely wouldn’t have done anything else because there’s just the best opportunities here at the program and I’m playing with the best kids every day, practicing and playing against colleges. There’s just so much stuff like representing your country every day, wearing the jersey, stuff like that I couldn’t pass up. It wasn’t even close.”
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Janicke got to USA Hockey Arena and saw tons of success during his U17 season. The 6-foot tall, 181-pound forward accumulated 37 points in 45 games for the team, including 17 goals on the season, good for third-most on the squad. In a season that saw a lot of success, one moment stood out above the rest for Janicke.
“My favorite memory was definitely winning the Four Nations, beating Russia because we had lost to Russia at the U17 Challenge the tournament before that. And then we came back and we beat them. I think it was like five-nothing, maybe four-nothing (it was 6-0, Justin!). We just we smoked them and we were all so fired up for that game and traveling back with all the boys and celebrating was great. That whole tournament was really fun.”
Justin’s play earned him a call-up to the Under-18 Team late in the season, where he could not only learn leadership qualities from the older players off the ice, but continue to develop his game on it.
“I would say one big thing was just playing your game. I think I went up there and there's a little intimidation and stuff. I just stuck with what I knew because I got called up for a reason and I just wanted to play the same way I was.”
Even after the 2019-20 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Justin committed himself to offseason training in preparation for his U18 year. He trained with Trevor over the summer and the brothers made sure to keep each other motivated. They’d skate on the ice, work out in their basement or at a gym, anything to be better for the next season.
“I spent a lot of time training. Working to get quicker, faster, stronger. I wanted to get a quicker, stronger shot, spent a lot of time in the backyard with my dad and brother shooting. I think I can always get quicker and faster.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
Photo by Rena Laverty
That offseason worked seemed to click on the ice immediately for Janicke this season, as he started the year with back-to-back three-point efforts against the St. Cloud Norsemen. But then he was held off the scoresheet against Austin. And Muskegon twice. And in the team’s first collegiate games against Concordia (Wis.) and Adrian. Before it was over, it was nine consecutive games without a point for Janicke, before he broke out with a huge weekend against Air Force in Colorado.
“It was tough, mentally, just to stay at it. But I think I knew I was right there a lot of the time, and I knew it was coming. I was talking to coach a lot and we were just working on little things to my game that I was changing. I started building back to myself and gaining some confidence, because I did lose a little bit of confidence during that stretch. It was nine games, but it was also like a month or two [due to game cancellations]. It felt longer than that. I think lately I've gained a lot of confidence back and I'm playing more of my game, making smarter decisions and I'm just playing to what the game gives me and not trying to force stuff.”
Having worked out of the tough stretch, Janicke can focus not on the scoresheet or the NHL scouts watching, but on his and his team’s play for the rest of the season, leading up to the U18 Men’s World Championship at USA Hockey Arena in April. Janicke says keeping to their game and doing all the little things right will leave the team with a memory they won’t ever forget.
“We've been preparing for it since we started, since we got here, every single day. That's what motivates us in the gym and that's what keeps us going every day. And I think there's not one or two things we can do, but just to stay consistent with hard work and effort and building in the gym and trying to peak for that. But I think we need to play as a team and play for each other every day. Every game we play, we’ve got to act like it's the gold medal game. That would be the peak of the two years and that would be something I’d definitely never forget.”