Monday, April 18, 2011

Megna brothers face-off in round 2

By Christopher Heimerman

There came a time when Jayson Megna lost the right to call his kid brother his “little” brother.

“It’s tough calling him my little brother when I need to look up to look him in the eye,” says Jayson, laughing.

In less than a year, Muskegon Lumberjacks defenseman Jaycob Megna grew half a foot to his current height of 6-foot-5. Last summer, he went through a rigorous program – in terms of both diet and workout regimen – to fill out his frame.

“I was eating every two hours, getting up early, eating, going back to bed,” Jaycob says. “It was rough, but it was worth it.”

Jaycob merely whetted his proverbial appetite this past weekend as he posted a pair of assists in Game 2 of the Jacks’ sweep of Team USA in a first-round, best-of-three Clark Cup Playoff series at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Now he and the Jacks will look to take a bite out of his big brother’s squad, the top-seeded Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the second-round, best-of-five series that opens Wednesday at the Stable in Cedar Rapids.

Last week, Jayson admitted he’s not crazy about running into the Jacks in the postseason.

“It’s always a good battle,” Jaycob says about the season series, in which both teams went 2-1-1. “I don’t think they particularly like the style of game we play. We like to muck it up, and they play a fast, up-tempo game.”

UNO draws two

During his first regular season in the United States Hockey League, Jaycob has amassed 18 points on a goal and 17 assists. Thanks to the strength-training program of Jacks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier, he’s gotten immensely stronger while adjusting to the frenetic pace of the league.

Jaycob, with the help of his “big” brother, will look to repay the favor to Noel-Bernier when they attend his alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Omaha this fall.

Noel-Bernier is a UNO alumnus and served as its director of hockey operations for three seasons. Now that he’s done all he can to help Jaycob develop, Noel-Bernier is ecstatic to turn him over to his former mentor, Mavericks head coach Dean Blais.

“It’ll be good for him,” Noel-Bernier says. “Dean is known for producing NHL players. He’s tough on guys, but he’s fair. If you play hard for him, he’s going to play you. If anybody can instill an edge into a player, it’s that coaching staff. They’ve been in the business a long time and have tricks that other guys don’t.”

Blais recently was named the head coach of the 2012 U.S. National Junior team.

“He’s a little mesmerizing, to be honest,” Jaycob says. “He’s one of the great figures in college hockey.”

Blais’ associate head coach Mike Hastings previously served as an assistant at the University of Minnesota after 14 seasons as the head coach of the Omaha Lancers, with whom he became the winningest coach in USHL history. Assistant coach Mike Guentzel also is a veteran college hockey coach and came to UNO from the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, with whom he was the head coach and general manager.

It’s all in the family

The Megna brothers haven’t played together since their time with Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass.

“That was a great year,” Jayson says. “Not a lot of people get the chance to play with their brother. This fall will be a lot easier on our parents, too.”

This season their parents, Jay and Jacqueline, have done their best to split time between Muskegon and Cedar Rapids, where Jayson has racked up 58 points on 30 goals and 28 assists for the RoughRiders in his third USHL campaign.

“Jayson’s had a great year and is probably one of the best goal-scorers in the league,” Noel-Bernier says. “They’re both ready to take the step to the next level, and I’m excited for them.”

Jay Megna played two seasons in the National Football League with the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints, despite his detractors. He stands 5-foot-11, and his sons agree that the best message he offered was one of persistence.

“He taught us a lot growing up,” Jayson says. “He especially taught us about being a competitor and working harder than the next guy. He never wanted to be beat, and that rubbed off on us.”

“A lot of people said the same things about Jayson – he’s too small, he’s too slow, he doesn’t have what it takes,” Jaycob says. “He just kept working and kept working. Now he’s a phenomenal player, and I know he’s going to play in the NHL someday.”

Jaycob says the brothers’ respect for each other is a “two-way street.” But that respect will take a back seat to the drive for the Clark Cup as, for the Jacks, the road to the Eastern Conference finals runs through Cedar Rapids.

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