FRASER, Mich. – The Kenai River Brown Bears have made the call to the Metro Jets.
The Alaska-based Brown Bears are hoping Jets forward Jacob Drinkard and defenseman Dylan Naumovski can breathe some fresh air into the North American Hockey League club, calling them up this week to showcase their talents.
Drinkard is a three-year NA3HL veteran, while Naumovski played juniors in Canada last year before suiting up for Metro this season.
Both have been key contributors to the Jets’ success this year, but as Metro coach-GM Justin Quenneville has reiterated time and time again, development and advancement is the name of the game in the NA3HL.
"It never gets old getting to tell these young men when an opportunity has come up,” Quenneville said. “I believe our program has that success because we are fortunate to have an experienced staff that can provide the tools to prepare them. In addition, none of these opportunities are available without the support of ownership allowing you to operate the right way. ‘Drinks’ and ‘Nemo’ both deserve this opportunity and with another year of junior eligibility under their belts, this could be just what they need to showcase their abilities to play at that level. Scouts at every level are always watching us, and timing is everything.
“These two young men have shown a lot lately and we wish them the best of luck."
In Kenai River, Drinkard, a 19-year-old Lapeer, Mich., native, will be reunited with head coach Jeff Worlton, formerly the head coach of the since-moved Flint Jr. Generals when Drinkard skated there in 2013-14.
“Coach Q has had a good relationship with Coach Worlton and with him getting the coaching job in Kenai, that allowed me to have an opportunity to come up and show what I can bring to them,” said Drinkard, an assistant captain with the Jets. “With the great coaching staff at Metro, that has really allowed me to develop my all-around game, as well with my teammates on Metro pushing me every day to better myself.”
So far this season, Drinkard has posted 17 goals and 39 points in 31 games.
“My expectations are to try and come in and be able to play my game and make an impact,” added Drinkard. “This is my first time in Alaska and I’m just trying to really get everything out of the experience here.”
Naumovski said getting the call to the NAHL was a happy ending to an anxious day at practice last week.
“Justin came up to me before practice Wednesday and told me he had to talk to me after,” explained Naumovski. “So that whole practice, I didn't know what to expect. Then he called me into the office and told me that an opportunity has come up for you. I didn't hesitate. I said ‘yes’ and that's when the journey began. ‘Q’ always pushes us as a team to be good enough to get pulled up.
“Everyone wants to excel to that level of play, but Q put the tools together to make us play as hard as we can to get potential opportunities, such as going to the NA.”
Naumovski, a 19-year-old Macomb, Mich., product, has five goals and 14 assists for 19 points in 25 games this year for the Jets.
Now in the NAHL, Naumovski is hoping to stay there for the long term.
“This should be a turning point in their season – bringing in a new coach and the quick changes of everything,” said Naumovski. “The team should start to win a lot more during the rest of this season. I've never been to Alaska before, but it takes a long day to fly all the way to Alaska, which to some is never fun. I found it as a new challenge and a new experience to add to my belt.”
Drinkard and Naumovski join goaltender Jacob Gwillim (Brookings Blizzard), forwards Mathias Tellstrom (Kenai River) and Carter Woolley (Aston Rebels) and defensemen Stefan Boskovic (Aston), David Chavis (Aston) and Marc Schwartz (Aston) as call-ups to NAHL clubs this season.
Boskovic also just won the bronze medal with Serbia at the Division 2B World Junior Championship last weekend in his homeland of Serbia.
Last summer, forward Ryan Bloom was the lone NA3HL player selected in the NAHL Entry Draft and he’s been with the Minnesota Wilderness all season.
In addition, Metro also moved forwards Alex Holm (NCAA Division III Finlandia University), Cody Jones (ACHA Adrian College) and Cooper McLean (ACHA Adrian College) and defenseman Tyler Layle (ACHA Aquinas College) to college programs for the 2015-16 season.
Two other players – forwards Pearce Vance (Aston) and Devin Kelly (Topeka RoadRunners) – signed NAHL tender agreements last offseason.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Last weekend, the Jets played their first home games at Fraser Hockeyland since Dec. 13 and came away with a win Saturday night against the Wooster Oilers and Sunday afternoon against the Toledo Cherokee.
Vance scored two goals as the Jets roared to an 8-2 win over the Oilers Saturday night in front of a season-high 751 fans as part of “Heroes Night.”
Before the game, members of the military and first responders were honored and recognized in front of the home crowd.
“It was a big win on the ice and a bigger win off the ice,” said Quenneville. “We had a big crowd with a lot of festivities and it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves. We stuck to the game plan and our guys did a good job containing their emotions. I’m really proud of the way they handled themselves.”
Wooster actually scored the game’s first goal just a minute into the first period, but could only muster a power-play goal early in the third period.
Drinkard and Tellstrom each tallied a goal and an assist for the Jets, while Chavis, Jason Newel, Kevin Shand and captain Matt Dempsey added single goals.
Chas Distelrath and Michael Tratar chipped in two assists each and Kam Limburg made 19 saves in goal.
“Our defense played well and moved the puck out of the zone really well,” said Limburg. “We didn’t have a lot of turnovers, which always helps. We got pucks deep and were all over them in the offensive zone.”
“I liked our energy out there,” added Vance. “We just kept coming and coming and played a great all-around game.”
Wooster goalie Joe Morgan finished with 40 saves, including stopping Shand on a penalty shot in the second period.
The Jets scored two power-play goals in the first period and then held on to beat Toledo 3-2 on Sunday.
Shand and Kelly notched the man-advantage markers and Distelrath added an even-strength tally in the second period, answering Ben Hamilton’s shorthanded goal for the Cherokee.
Ricky Kwapich added a power-play goal for Toledo midway through the third period, but the Cherokee could not find the equalizer.
“We’re on a huge streak right now and it’s awesome,” said Metro goaltender Austin Kane, who made 22 saves for the win. “Getting a four-point weekend just adds to it and we’re all so happy right now. I felt great out there, getting to play after injuries and sickness, but it felt great to be back out there and have the strong ‘D’ in front of me.”
Metro defenseman Jacob Rutkoske said Sunday’s win was tough, but his team showed a lot of character.
“It was nice to see Kane get a win, first of all,” said Rutkoske. “He’s been working hard in practice every day and he deserves it. I thought our ‘D’ corps played really well and our forwards put the puck in when it mattered. That’s how you win tough games. Going into playoffs, they’re not going to be 8-1 games all the time. We’ll be playing good team and they’re going to work hard to beat us.”
The Jets remain in first place in the NA3HL’s East Division at 28-3-2 and now hit the road for three games this week, starting at Battle Creek tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against the West Michigan Wolves. Metro then makes the trek to Jamestown, N.Y., to play two with the Southern Tier Xpress – Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
“It all starts with working hard in practice, showing up early and wanting to win,” Rutkoske said. “We have three tough games this week and those guys are going to come out and try to beat us, so we have to stick to our game and just work our butts off.”
Follow the games Wednesday and this weekend on www.fasthockey.com.
The NA3HL announced last week the number of players that will represent each team at next month’s 2016 NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament, presented by Easton, which will be held from Feb. 15-17 at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., along with the teams’ coaches.
A total of 160 players from the NA3HL will be spread amongst eight teams (six divisional, two 18U Select teams), who will play in three games each during the event. The event will feature teams that represent the six divisions in the NA3HL: Central, East, Frontier, Midwest, South and West, along with two NA3HL 18U Select Teams.
From the Jets, Quenneville will coach the East and Metro players on the East team include Limburg, Chavis, Naumovski, Tellstrom and Tratar. Drinkard was named to the West team, Schwartz to the 18U Selects Black team and former Metro goalie Jake Stephan, now with the Great Falls Americans, was named to the Frontier Division team.
The number of players each NA3HL team can to send to the tournament, in which six teams from the five NA3HL divisions – Central, East, Frontier, Midwest, South and West – is based on each team’s winning percentage within their group as of Jan. 19.
Each team consists of a 20-man roster (12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies) as chosen by the NA3HL Competition Committee and the NAHL’s Central Scouting Department and as nominated by the league's 34 head coaches. All junior-eligible NA3HL players are eligible to participate in the Top Prospects Tournament.
The NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament is played in conjunction with the North American Hockey League's Top Prospects Tournament, along with the North American Prospects Hockey League's Championship. The event has quickly become one of the most highly-scouted events of its kind, with hundreds of junior, NCAA and NHL expected in attendance this season. Combined with the NAHL Top Prospect Tournament and the NAPHL Championship, it will make for an exciting week of hockey and provides a great opportunity for every scout and coach to get a close look the talent in the three leagues.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Check out the Jets extensive list of alumni at all levels of hockey at THIS LINK.