Talks to Peter Collins
WHEN Jeff Jablonski netted Storm's second goal against Helsinki he was on target for the ninth straight game, which was a weight off his mind, as he explained how he has overcome his early season jitters. "The only thing I've done different is change my playing weight, I've come in at a 190 lbs rather than coming in heavy. It was a concious decision. Every year I look back and I usually don't play well until I get down to 190. I've always tried to put on a little extra muscle in the summer to see if it helps but lately it's not seemed to work out. I'm 32 now and I finally seemed to have figured that one out! Once I work the weight off I get into my stride, but coming in this year at the right weight I've started where I left off last season."
Indeed, he finished the championship winning campaign as the club's top goal-getter with 31 goals from 67 games, and his start to this season has been equally impressive. Going into Wednesday nights B&H clash with Sheffield he led the team goalscoring charts in two of the four competitions (four in SuperLeague and seven in the B&H, along with one in the Challenge Cup and one in the EHL) totalling 13 from 11 outings. And it's been much to the delight of his very own fan club who sit behind the away goal singing their specially adapted version of 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland': "There's only one Jeff Jablonski, one Jeff Jablonski, we're walking along, singing this song, walking in a Jabber Wonderland!" And it's certainly hit the right note with the man himself. "Hearing the fans singing that really makes me feel good, it's a huge compliment and I really appreciate it. It's different, we're not used to that kind of thing back home, I guess it comes from the football singing you have over here."
His own biggest critic, it seems he's finally learned to go easy on himself, something borne out of confidence in his own ability and that of his teamates. "Being with the same team for three years helps your confidence, especially playing alongside Davey and Norm. We've gelled well together, all three of us are straight up-and-down players and we work hard. They get it out to me from the corners and I just have to tap in. I tried to play with Tommy (Jeff Tomlinson) but he plays a more of a side-to-side game and we just couldn't seem to get the timing right, but with these two it's different."
Known for his trademark wrap-around goals, where he sweeps round behind the opposition net and guides the puck in by the post with the blade of his stick as he emerges out in front of goal, this season he has taken it a step or two further, winning back the puck off a defenceman after his wrap-around efforts have not quite made it to score at the second attempt. "Defenders always try and run me out of room when I cut to the front so I like to go around to the back and a lot of times the goalies don't expect it, it catches them and the defencemen out and it seems to work. Scoring goals is nice but it's what I'm there for, it's my job and to be honest with you I don't think I'm doing anything special or new to get goals, maybe I shoot the puck more but a lot of it is down to my linemates." He admitted he could and should have had more goals against the Finns but like most of his teammates he got caught up in the emotion of the night, trying to pay his opponnets back in kind as they played a very un-Finnish North-American style game. "I played real dumb in the second period, I went around trying to make hits instead of concentrating on getting even on the scoreboard, but I learned my lesson, I mean it's not exactly the way I play and I'll try to keep mind on my job the next time we meet."
A native of Toledo, Ohio, the former New York Islanders draft pick comes from a hockey family. Dad Greg played in the IHL, netminding twin brother Pat is a former NHLer and mum Monica was a skating instructor. Now in his third year with the Storm he is loving every minute of it, as is his wife Kim and daughters Jordyn and Jessica and he plans to carry on playing for a few more years yet. "Physically I fell fine and as long as things keep going well for me and it makes sense financially for my family and I to come over, we will do. We've now been in the same house with the same neighbours and friends for two years, the kids play really well with the other kids and we couldn't wish for a better situation. It also means my wife can stay home and raise the kids which is what we both want, although during the summer she goes out to work and I look after them, which certainly helps to keep me fit. So right now life is just great and long may it continue."
Having been part of the team that just missed out on the SuperLeague title two years ago, he then shared in the jubilation last season as Storm finally grabbed British ice hockey's ultimate prize. But he's aware of the one thing that could ruin the team's aim of retaining the SuperLeague title this season - something never before achieved. "We've had a good start but the biggest demon is complacency, letting things get away from us by forgeting how hard we've had to work we get where we are. As long as we remember that we'll be okay. We've got to go out and play every niught becasue you can bet our opponnets will be there to shoot us down given half a chance