By: Ryan Wilkes, Media Relations Intern
ROANOKE, VA.– Upon his arrival in Roanoke in 2018, not many could foresee the ever-lasting impact Mac Jansen would soon make on the ice at Berglund Center.
Jansen has done it all in his time in Roanoke. He is the franchise’s leader in nearly every single statistical category, most recently becoming the all-time leader in games played. While Jansen’s play on the ice has always been impactful, he faced a new challenge this year – earning the role of captain.
Since arriving in Roanoke, Jansen’s affinity for the city and the fans has grown to levels that he didn’t necessarily anticipate coming in.
“I came here after spending five years at my college (Wisconsin-Eau Claire), and I thought that was home,” Jansen said. “I came here and there’s not many words to describe it, but it felt like home right away.”
In his first season in Roanoke, Jansen learned a lot from a large contingent of veteran players that set him up for success in the rest of his career.
“There’s obviously going to be ups and downs,” Jansen said. “But we were a very experienced team that year and I had some great veterans to look up to and learn the game from. We were a hard-working, battling team.”
In 2020-2021, Roanoke opted out of the SPHL season due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jansen wanted to stay fresh and keep playing hockey despite the circumstances. An opportunity arose for Jansen, as he spent his 2020-21 season in Columbus with the River Dragons of the FPHL. He was joined by current Dawgs teammates CJ Stubbs, Gehrett Sargis, and Matt O’Dea, in addition to a couple other former Dawgs.
“That season was a lot of fun,” Jansen said. “A lot of us were uncertain about what we were going to do with the Dawgs that year, and a lot of us were still in touch. So we decided to go play and stay fresh… we were fortunate enough to have a good group of guys to get a ring.”
The River Dragons ended up taking the FPHL Ignite Cup title that year, and it was an experience in which he continued to grow rapport with his teammates.
“We played through a lot of big games together and we’ve created that bond,” said Dawgs forward CJ Stubbs. “Playing together again in Columbus during that COVID year, we’ve been through the highs and lows together.”
Upon his return to Roanoke in the fall of 2021, Jansen’s jersey received an important upgrade, that being the ‘A’ on his chest. He operated as one of four alternate captains on the team, with defenseman Travis Armstrong serving as the captain. This season, it was Jansen’s turn to wear the ‘C’ as captain, providing a new challenge for the Minnesota native, but one that he was well prepared for. Dawgs head coach Dan Bremner, a former Peoria Rivermen captain himself, sees a lot of himself in Jansen.
“As far as showing up to the rink and working everyday, that was the best part of my day and you see that with him too,” Bremner said. “That kind of energy can drive through the entire team.”
During his time in Roanoke, Jansen has grown a lot not just as a hockey player, but also as a leader.
“As a player, he has always had the fire,” Bremner said. “He continues this year to have that fire, but to see him step up as a leader, he’s done a great job with it.”
It’s not just on the ice either – many of the community appearances, media interview requests, and various other team activities became Jansen’s responsibility the moment he was named as captain at the start of this season. It’s part of the role that goes on behind the scenes, and it only happens with Jansen’s commitment.
“Being a team captain already carries so much weight on the ice,” said Dawgs media manager and broadcaster Mitch Stewart. “But it’s a lot to handle outside of practice and games as well. Mac is our point man for everyone in the front office when it comes to making sure we can make an impact in our community beyond lacing up the skates and scoring goals. Travis (Armstrong) had been doing it for quite some time, and it left some big shoes for Jansen to fill.”
“He’s accepted those responsibilities from day one, and he’s been extremely reliable in making that a seamless transition,” Stewart said. “It’s the part of the captain’s gig that goes unnoticed, but Mac’s communication and dedication to this franchise makes things so easy for me and the other staff members.”
Jansen retains some of the key leadership qualities that help propel the team forward, but the performance aspect of his leadership cannot be overlooked. Over his four seasons in Roanoke alone, Jansen has played 181 games, accumulating franchise career-bests for goals (67) and points (150), while ranking second on the all-time assists list behind Stubbs (83). That includes his record-setting campaign last season, when the White Bear Lake, Minnesota native set new franchise single-season marks for most goals (29) and points (60), earning him an All-SPHL Second Team selection. While the on-ice performance doesn’t account for the whole equation of being a great leader, it certainly shows others how to do it the right way.
“One of the qualities he has is just pure performance,” Bremner said. “I was lucky enough to be a captain for a number of years and I would never put up the numbers Jansen did last year and this year as well… I think it’s just another check on his list to hold others accountable by putting up those numbers.”
While the numbers speak for themselves, the consistency, competitive drive, and responsibility shown by Jansen are what truly sets him apart in the eyes of his teammates.
“I just know how passionate he is about this team, and this city as well,” Stubbs said. “He has poured his heart out for this team, and when he leads by example everyone follows along.”
Jansen’s teammates have taken notice of his growth as a leader over his time in Roanoke, as he has quickly turned into a respected voice in the locker room.
“Going from not having a letter to having the ‘C’ in three years, I think that just shows you his work ethic and his voice in the room and how much it carries,” said alternate captain Josh Nenadal.
With the role as captain, Jansen has shared the responsibility with the team’s alternate captains, Nenadal and Matt O’Dea, and the three have had success with keeping the team on track.
“It’s been super easy,” O’Dea said. “The guys respond well in the locker room when we speak, so it’s been a pretty smooth ride.”
While the transition has been smooth, there’s always the inevitable ups and downs of the season. Whether it’s a losing streak or a rivalry, Jansen and the other captains have done their job with dealing with challenges both on and off the ice. It’s built a layer of trust in the locker room that has kept Roanoke on track throughout the campaign.
“Whenever things have been down with our season, we just remind the guys to stick to our system,” O’Dea said. “Each time we’ve had to say that, it has gotten nipped in the bud and we get back on track.”
Roanoke ended last season red-hot, and turned from eighth-seeded underdogs in last year’s President’s Cup Playoffs to title contenders with upsets in each of the first two rounds. Jansen was a big piece of that run, ranking second on the team in points with 10 thanks to his three goals and seven assists in the nine-game postseason run.
Though the Dawgs fell short, losing to the Peoria Rivermen three games-to-one in the best-of-five President’s Cup Finals, it showed the returning cast for this year’s team what they could be capable of. Jansen and the other team leaders now know what it takes to keep the locker room focused on making yet another run in this year’s playoffs. After setting new regular season team records for wins (32), points (69), and standings finish (fourth) this year, the Dawgs are hoping that this time around they finish on the winning side of the Finals when the dust settles on the 2022-2023 season.
“It’s never going to be easy,” Jansen said. “It’s going to be hard every night, and some nights you have it and some nights you don’t. Regardless, you have to do all the little things to be successful and play a full 60-minute game.”
The 30-year-old Roanoke captain remembers all too well the sting of last year’s Finals loss, but he’s also tasted championship glory in Columbus with several of his fellow Dawgs. With that in mind and the postseason set to start this week, Jansen’s message to the team is simple.
“It goes by quickly,” Jansen said. “They’re short playoff series… my message is to enjoy the moment, but work your tail off.”
Jansen and the Rail Yard Dawgs start their President’s Cup Playoffs journey on Thursday night, as they travel for Game One of their best-of-three series against the Evansville Thunderbolts.
Featured Image Credit: Michele Hancock // Field Pass Hockey