WATERFORD, MI – The Metro Jets liked forward Mike Gambino so much last season that on draft day this past June, the Jets made a major deal with Quad City to move up to No. 5 in the first round to nab the slick-skating 18-year-old from Livonia Churchill High School.
Now a few weeks into the North American 3 Hockey League season, Gambino has seven points in his first six games and seems to be fitting in well and adjusting to junior hockey.
In fact, when Metro coach Jason Cirone was asked if Gambino has played as he hoped he would, Cirone answered, “Well, yes and no.”
“On the offensive side, Gambino has done an outstanding job for us,” said Cirone. “There is no doubt about that. The reason I said ‘no’ is that I never knew the kid could play as physical as he’s been this year. He’s definitely brought a new element to our team this season.”
"The NA3 is a lot more physical than I had expected, but I like playing a physical game, so it's not a huge adjustment for me," Gambino said. "I would say this league is what I expected and then some. The guys on our team are awesome and I'm having a great time. I like to get to a good start early in the season. if I don't, then I feel pressure on myself to produce and it just makes me play worse. I am very comfortable on the ice."
At 6-foot and 185 pounds, Gambino has the size to make an impact in the NA3HL, but more than that, he’s a player that wants to keep learning and wants to get better.
"Our captain, Matt Stirling, has probably been the biggest help to me," said Gambino. "If there's anything that I'm doing in practice, in games, or even the locker room that I should be doing, he always has something to say to help me out."
“He has great speed and you always need that up front at any level of hockey,” said Cirone. “Mike is also learning to play well in his own end and that’s something good players do – they excel on both sides of the puck and in all three zones.
“I think Gambino is the type of player North American Hockey League teams want and I think if he keeps improving as much as he has so far, he will have his pick of NAHL teams for next season.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Three Rivers Vengeance earned a pair of victories over the Jets last weekend, winning 4-3 Saturday night and 5-4 Sunday afternoon at Lakeland Arena.
The Jets are now 2-4-0-0 after starting the season with a two-game sweep of Battle Creek.
Saturday night, Gambino, Travis Hargett and Doug Andrews scored for the Jets, while Trevor Kalinowski made 34 saves in the loss.
Stirling added two assists.
On Sunday, Stirling then had two goals and an assist to go along with single goals from Hargett and Andrew Palushaj.
Luke DuBois made his season debut in goal and stopped 54 shots.
Metro and the Toledo Cherokee play a home-and-home set this weekend, starting Saturday night at Lakeland Arena for a 7:50 p.m.start. Game time Sunday in Toledo is 2:30 p.m.
Gritty defenseman Josh Hosking, a 19-year-old from Oxford, signed with the Jets last week and suited up for the two games with the Vengeance. He began the season in the NAHL with the Jamestown Ironmen and played two games at the start of the season.
Hosking played with Palushaj in Jamestown and when Palushaj signed with the Jets, he referred the team to Hosking.
“Josh has the potential to run our power play,” Cirone said.
Hosking played last season for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies’ 18U team and tallied four goals and 14 points in 39 games.
Then this week, the Jets announced that rookie defenseman Steven Shariak has left the team for personal reasons and also acquired 6-foot-3 defenseman Aksel Campbell, an 18-year-old Colorado native, from Three Rivers for a 2013 player tender.
Campbell is expected to be in the lineup this weekend.
“From what I saw of Aksel last weekend, he’s a big, mobile defenseman,” said Cirone.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Dustin Cloutier, a forward who played for the Jets during the 2004-05 season, signed with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings last week.
Cloutier, a 26-year-old Berkley native, joined the K-Wings last year after starting the season in the Southern Professional Hockey League with the Augusta RiverHawks, where he posted 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 20 games. He then notched 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 45 games with Kalamazoo.
“His work ethic earned him every minute of ice time he received last season,” said Kalamazoo head coach Nick Bootland. “If he can pick up where he left off from a season ago, we expect him to push for an even larger role this season.”
Before turning pro, Cloutier was a four-year standout at Division I Bentley (Atlantic Hockey) and also played in the United States Hockey League for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and in the North American Hockey League for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.