Tanner Jago isn’t setting up goals at the same pace he did last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
As a tradeoff, the Winkler Flyers defenceman hopes he’s getting better at preventing them.
Jago, an 18-year-old Brandonite, has emerged as a workhorse for the Flyers after posting 12 goals and 45 points in 56 games last season to win the MJHL’s rookie of the year award. Already a proven performer in the offensive zone, it’s his work in his own end that Jago is most proud of this season.
"I think this year I’ve developed a lot defensively," said Jago, whose Flyers open their post-Christmas schedule tonight by hosting the Steinbach Pistons. "Last year I hung my defence partner out to dry a few times I’m sure in the (defensive) zone. So this year I’m really being more disciplined with that and just becoming a complete player as a defenceman more than just being known as an offensive defenceman."
It’s not like Jago has forgotten where the opposition’s net is.
His 11 goals in 30 games are only one short of his total from all of last season and he’s added nine assists as he tries to garner the attention of NCAA scouts.
A former bantam draft pick of the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings, the former Midget AAA Wheat King has since put the WHL out of his mind and is focused solely on earning a U.S. college scholarship. He’s had some preliminary discussions with NCAA teams and although nothing has come to fruition yet, Jago knows that with two seasons of Junior A eligibility remaining, he’s got time for the pieces to fall into place.
"That’s definitely a huge bonus, I guess you could say. Playing hockey you don’t completely have to have your life figured out coming out of high school," said Jago who was an undersized prospect when he was drafted but is now 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds after a late growth spurt.
"You look at a guy like Bryn Chyzyk. He went down and played in the USHL as a 19-year-old and he’s playing at (the University of North Dakota) this year, so you definitely can’t panic going this route and you just have to be patient with yourself."
While time is on Jago’s side as far as his hockey future is concerned, the same can’t be said for the Flyers this season.
A team that was a combined 37 games over .500 in the previous two seasons comes out of the break with the worst record in the Addison Division at 8-20-7, nine points behind the Pistons.
Jago knows that if the Flyers want to make any post-season plans, they’ve got to start winning now.
"There’s no question that we’ve had a difficult start of the year," he said. "But I guess we’ve just got to bring in the playoff mentality a little earlier because if we don’t we won’t get into the playoffs at all."