WATERFORD, MI – Aaron Bessey and Brad Hepler both joined the Metro Jets midway through this season, but both came to Waterford under much different circumstances.
Bessey (pictured) was playing midget hockey in Omaha, Neb., and Hepler was a rookie with the NA3HL’s Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks starting the season.
At the NA3HL Showcase in December in Blaine, Minn., Bessey was approached by the Jets’ brass to skate a few games on their depleted blue line and then in January, Hepler was acquired from Cleveland for veteran forward Jeff Monfils.
Both acquisitions paid immediate dividends. Bessey, just 16, was only expected to play a handful of games, but stayed the rest of the season in Waterford. Hepler, a forward by trade, wound up playing both forward and defense for the Jets.
“Prior to the trade, I felt like the season was going in the right direction,” said Hepler, an 18-year-old Chelsea native. “I was told that I would be given more ice time, so I can't complain, and I felt like being closer to home was going to be better. Being away was also nice, though. My impressions of the Jets were that they were a good, physical team that works hard. My time with Metro has been great, starting with the guys making it comfortable for me on and off the ice.”
When Bessey joined the team, he immediately became one of the youngest players in the league.
“When I joined the NA3HL, I saw the game was a lot faster-paced and everything you did had to be quicker and react faster to the play,” said Bessey, a Howell native. “My experience makes me want to potentially play in the NAHL next year and to make it as far as I can in the long run.”
Hepler’s future goals mirror those of Bessey.
“My short-term goal playing hockey would to be playing in the NAHL by the end of my junior career,” explained Hepler. “My long-term goal is to play in the NHL.”
And with the heartbreaking loss last Tuesday night in Flint that mathematically eliminated the Jets from the playoffs, both Bessey and Hepler said everyone on the team played out the rest of the year as if the playoffs were still an option.
“I think the mood with the team was still great because even though we're out of playoffs, I think we really pushed to win the rest of the season as if we still were competing for playoffs,” Bessey said.
The Jets finished the season splitting with the Jr. Lumberjacks at Lakeland Arena last Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Waterford native and Cleveland rookie Scott Cuthrell scored five goals and added an assist as the Jr. Lumberjacks defeated the Jets 9-2 Saturday night.
Doug Andrews and Mike Lawrence scored for the Jets, while Trevor Kalinowski made 23 saves between the pipes.
The Jets then ended their 2012-13 season with a thrilling 4-3 win over the Jr. Lumberjacks on Sunday.
T.J. Krajewski led the way for the Jets (22-23-3-0) with a goal and two assists and Kalinowski made 32 saves in goal.
"I'm proud of the way the kids played today," said Jets' coach Jason Cirone. "They really put together a great effort and I'm proud of them."
Brian Ziola, Mike Gambino and Chris Mayer also scored, while Andrews and captain Matt Stirling each had an assist in their final junior hockey games.
For Cleveland, Dominic Valencia scored twice and goalie Nick Danczak made 12 saves.
After the game, instead of both teams heading to their respective locker rooms, they gathered at center ice for a post-game handshake.
Next up for the Jets are weekly conditioning skates that will start shortly at Lakeland Arena and then the NA3HL Entry Draft on June 11.
Check back later this week to MetroJetsHockey.com for a comprehensive season recap.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Steven Oleksy, who played for the Jets from 2003-05, made his NHL debut March 5 for the Washington Capitals with an assist against the Boston Bruins in a 4-3 overtime win and then tallied his first NHL goal Sunday afternoon versus the New York Rangers in a 4-1 loss.
Oleksy started the year with the AHL’s Hershey Bears before getting the call from Washington.
The 26-year-old from Chesterfield played for the NAHL’s Traverse City North Stars, captaining the team in 2005-06, and then skated three years at NCAA Division I Lake Superior State from 2006-09 and embarking on a pro career that has seen him play in the IHL, ECHL and AHL.
Oleksy, affectionately known as “Bink,” is the first Jets’ alumnus in the program’s 24-year history to skate in the NHL.