BLOOMINGTON — Midway through a stretch of six games in nine days for the Bloomington Thunder, forward Jack Jenkins knows what it will take for him and his teammates to maintain appropriate energy levels.
"We've got a lot of games in a short amount of time so we have to play smart and manage our ice time so we're ready to go for each game," said Jenkins. "We know how to play so if we stick to our systems, we'll be fine."
Jenkins, who owns seven goals and nine assists in 34 games, used the break between the pair of three-game sets to finalize his college choice, announcing his commitment to Notre Dame via Twitter on Tuesday night.
"Notre Dame is such a prestigious school, not only for hockey but academically. Both those combined was a great fit," said the 5-foot-10, 182-pound forward from Lake Bluff.
"You're playing with some of the best players in the country in college hockey so that's going to help my game a lot, playing with those kinds of players. Also, after hockey, with a degree from Notre Dame that's going to set you up with a great opportunity in the job world."
The Thunder (12-16-6) host fellow first-year USHL member Madison for the first time in a 7 p.m. faceoff Friday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Then it's off to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a pair Saturday night and Sunday afternoon contests against the Team USA 17-under squad.
"Madison's a very good hockey team right now," said Bloomington coach Dennis Williams. "We've got to manage pucks smart and play our game where we get pucks deep and funnel pucks to the net."
The Thunder suffered 1-0 and 6-0 home losses to Tri-City last weekend before a 4-3 shutout loss in a Monday matinee at Muskegon, where goalie Logan Halladay made a career-high 43 saves.
"Especially when you go 0-2 at home like that and then have a noon game on Monday, it could have been really easy for us to quit on that game," said Jenkins.
"We could've gotten blown out but it shows the fight in our guys. We battled through and almost picked up a win against a very good Muskegon team. It showed a lot of character."
The Capitols (17-10-6) hold fourth place in the Eastern Conference and are led by forwards Will Johnson (nine goals, 27 assists) and Freddy Gerard (13 goals, 11 assists). Goalies Garrett Metcalf and Darren Smith are both among the USHL's top 10 in save percentage.
"We've seen Madison once at their home. They're a good team and they're kind of in the same position as us, a new team in the league," said Jenkins. "Just like us, they're trying to scrap for wins so it's going to be a tight test."
Williams said the Thunder will need to remain disciplined against the USA squad's elite skills over the weekend in Ann Arbor.
"Those are future NHLers so they're pretty high end," he said. "Playing those guys, we don't want to get into too much of a down-and-back chess game or a power play-penalty kill game. They're pretty good 5-on-4."
Top prospects game: While the Thunder had no players in last week's USHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Dubuque, Iowa, the team was represented by fan contest winner Anthony Nelson. The game showcased 43 of the league's top talents, 40 of whom are committed to Division I college programs.
The USHL has produced 247 current NHL players, including three who will play in Saturday's NHL All-Star Game in Columbus: fan vote winner Zemgus Girgonsens of Buffalo, Justin Faulk of Carolina and Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary.