WATERFORD, Mich. – There’s a lot to like about Jacob Rutkoske’s game on the blue line for the Metro Jets.
For one, he’s one of those players that makes the smart plays, the right plays, and does so with little or no fanfare. He’s very business-like in his approach to the game.
Rutkoske, who played ACHA college hockey last season at Eastern Michigan University (pictured), hopes to use this season as a springboard to another college opportunity down the line. Prior to EMU, Rutkoske skated for Romeo High School and the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Belle Tire and Rochester Rattlers youth programs.
“I wanted to play junior hockey this year and wasn't sure where would be the best fit, but after hearing about the good coaching staff at Metro and having the team so close to home, it was an easy choice,” said Rutkoske, a 19-year-old out of Macomb, Mich. “Eastern was a good school and had good hockey program, but the fit wasn't just right and I felt I had more potential somewhere else.”
This season, Rutkoske has posted two goals and seven points with a plus-8 rating in 28 games for the Jets.
“I feel like the season is going good so far,” Rutkoske said. “We have a great bunch of guys in the locker room, which makes going to the rink every day fun, and our team is realizing the potential we have and we are ready for the remainder of the season. The thing I like most about this team, besides all my teammates, is the coaching staff. ‘Q’ (head coach Justin Quenneville) and (assistant coach) Randy (Wilson) have developed not just me, but every player on this team. It shows how important good coaching can be. I feel like I have become a more patient and smarter hockey player this year by the systems we have in place.”
Quenneville has seen Rutkoske’s game grow increasingly better as the weeks go by.
“Jake has developed a lot, not just on the puck, but away from the puck,” Quenneville said. “He’s a quiet leader on this team and was a really great find for us in the offseason. We needed a complete overhaul on the back end after we moved on a lot of guys, which at the end of the day is a good thing, but it’s always hard to find that identity and he’s helped us establish that.”
Rutkoske has played consistently with Metro captain David Chavis II as the team’s shutdown unit and according to Quenneville, has a calming effect on the blue line.
“That’s very hard to find at the Tier III level,” added Quenneville. “Jake’s been nothing but a positive for us. He keeps it simple and you can’t ask for enough of those guys.”
When asked what this season has meant for his development, Rutkoske said it’s all in the coaches.
“Let me put it this way,” said Rutkoske. “Half the things they said early in the season I had never heard of, or thought they were crazy, but they were right and it has made playing the game easier and more fun.”
Rutkoske’s expectations for the rest of this season are realistic, yet lofty at the same time.
“I want to see us put ourselves in a position to make a deep run in playoffs,” Rutkoske said. “I feel like we have the talent and the motivation to do that. I'm sure the rest of the guys would agree with me.”
After this season, Rutkoske said he hopes to have more options to continue his hockey career.
“I am planning on attending college in the next couple years and want to play college hockey again,” said Rutkoske. “I feel like it was a good experience and I’m looking forward to continuing my education.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Metro split its weekend series last weekend at home with the Southern Tier Xpress, losing in overtime Saturday night before exploding for 11 goals in an 11-5 romp Sunday afternoon.
With the three points, the Jets (20-12-1) take sole possession of third place and pushed Southern Tier down to fourth.
Saturday night, Max Vance, Jacob Drinkard and Andrew Sawyer scored and goaltender Jake Stephan made 12 saves.
“I don’t think very much went wrong (Saturday) – I think it was who went wrong,” Quenneville said. “We had a couple players out there on their own agenda. We put a good game plan together and executed, but you can’t give up four goals on 16 shots – that’s bad.”
The Jets responded in a huge way the following afternoon as Kyle Shreve went for two goals and two assists and Chavis added a goal and two assists to back Kam Limburg’s 21-save outing in net.
Vance, Alex Holm and Matt Dempsey each contributed a goal and an assist, Tyler Layle scored twice and Devin Kelly notched three assists. Cooper McLean, T.J. Krajewski and Sawyer added single goals in the win, while Zach Koonce tacked on two assists.
"The guys played disciplined (Sunday) and were rewarded for it,” said Quenneville. “We felt we executed a strong game plan again and Southern Tier simply couldn't keep up to our pace."
This weekend, Metro plays a staggered home-and-home series with the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks, starting Friday night in Cleveland at 8:45 p.m. and wrapping up Sunday at Lakeland Arena with a 4:20 p.m. puck drop.
"Cleveland is a peaty team that has been playing some great hockey since the showcase,” Quenneville added. “Their core is as competitive and dangerous as anyone's in the league and we will have to have good puck management this weekend to establish our game plan."
Sawyer and fellow rookie forward Jason Newel were called up to the NAHL’s Aberdeen Wings this week and both could play in the Wings’ two games this weekend at home against the Minot Minotauros.
More on Sawyer and Newel HERE.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Another former Metro forward that found his way to the NAHL this season, Kevin Shand, was recently traded from the Springfield Jr. Blues to the Brookings Blizzard.
Shand, a 19-year-old Saline, Mich., native played four games with the Jets this season, scoring five goals and adding two assists. Last year, Shand totaled eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in nine games with the Jets before getting the call back to Springfield.
A 2013 Michigan high school Division 3 state champion with Cranbrook Kingswood, Shand also saw time with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in 2013-14.