FRASER, Mich. – Metro Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville has said it time and again over the course of his five seasons with the organization.
The wins and losses are certainly nice, but advancing players to higher levels and providing the tools to the players to gain those opportunities is what junior hockey is all about.
These days, Quenneville has been on the receiving end of the advancements as six players that played for the Metro Jr. Jets youth program are rostered with the Junior A team this year in forwards Anthony Cinato, Brandon Graham, Jeremy Schwartz, Andrew Shore, Jake Stawinski and Brodie Thornton.
It’s a sign that the Jets association, which starts at the “learn to play” level and has teams all the way to juniors, is a template for success.
“Junior hockey is a lot more difficult and hard-working, but if you put the effort into it, then you may get a look at by many different colleges looking for players,” said Schwartz, whose older brother, Cam, played for the Jets from 2015-17. “It wasn’t easy getting here. You always have to be working hard on and off the ice and if you love the sport hard enough and keep working every day, then you’ll be a great Junior A player.”
Stawinski, who ages out of juniors after this season, is in his second season with the Junior A club. The other five players are rookies.
“With six of us on the team this year, I think it shows how invested this organization is in the development of its players,” Stawinski said. “From playing for the Jr. Jets and onto college, the Jets organization is always looking to find the right path of development for its players and make them the best hockey players they can be. I think with how involved the junior team is with the younger teams, that shows how much this organization cares for its players. At our games, we see a lot of kids in their jerseys and when watching us, I think they look up to us and one day want to be like us.”
Cinato is a 2000 birth year, just one of two such players with the Jets this year.
“From an organizational standpoint, I feel kids aspire to play at the next level and it’s special to wear the jersey and represent the Metro Jets as a whole playing on the junior team,” said Cinato. “Everyone should aspire to play for the junior team and I think more kids are learning what it’s all about.”
For Thornton, he’s seen the growth of the Jr. Jets since Day 1 as his father, Mark, is the president of the association and coaches in the youth program.
“It’s awesome to play on the junior team with some of the same guys I played Tier II youth hockey with,” the younger Thornton said. “That shows that we had good coaching, good work ethic and an association that helps foster growth. I think we are already helping to grow the association now by helping at practice with the youth teams. I have worked over a dozen times with the ‘04 group and they love it.
“Having the junior players go out and mentor the youth players not only makes the youth players better, but also makes the juniors better, by seeing the game a little differently from a coaches’ perspective. It’s a win-win in my book.”
Mark Thornton is elated at how much the association has taken off (pun intended) in its three years of existence.
“The Metro Jr. Jets focused on growing the game in the younger age groups this past year and it is paying off,” said Thornton. “By growing the game organically with quality coaches and a stable program, we will have Jets teams for years to come. The Jets have an established learn to skate program – the “Little Jets” – as well as a new 2009 Squirt A travel team forming this spring and a new Squirt B team in the fall. We are in the works of forming a 2010 Mite team as well as to keep building the Little Jets program.
“This focused growth with the support of the Jets coaches and Junior A players has made a huge impact on these young players. The Jr. Jets have role models and they now want to play for the Junior A team when they get older.”
Graham is in agreement with his teammates in that forward progress is the name of the game.
“It’s good for the Metro Jets because it shows the promotion of the Jr. Jets within the organization and not needing to look all over for players when they were brought up with the Jr. Jets,” said Graham. “I think the program will continue to grow as we keep moving players up to higher leagues and college. Also, having good seasons and friendly players on the Junior A team keeps making Jr. Jets players want to go to the Jets.”
And as the 2017-18 season trudges on, Quenneville knows that as he begins to piece together the 2018-19 team, he’ll have an eye on the Jr. Jets.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of success here within the organization and the Metro Jets brand is continuing to do well on and off the ice,” said Quenneville. “It’s important that our platform continues to provide opportunities for players at all ages and I always enjoy seeing team and individual success stories. We take pride in putting the players first and surrounding them with all the tools to develop. In the end, that is 100 percent our mission, to develop these young men, provide a positive environment and give them every chance to achieve their goals. When you have everyone contributing in the organization, from the president, managers and coaches, the players will buy in and see the results.
“These young men are indicative of that process and we look forward to continue to provide that platform for more young student-athletes in the future.”