WATERFORD, Mich. – With the first half of the North American 3 Hockey League season in the books, the Metro Jets look to continue their overall success and build on their 17-12-0 record.
In the spirit of the holiday season, the Jets traveled to Pittsburgh two weekends ago to battle the East Division’s first-place team and gave themselves an early Christmas gift in the form of two overtime victories against the Vengeance.
Combine that performance with the team’s four North American Hockey League call-ups, a solid showing at the NA3HL Showcase event and a better-than-.500 record and Jets’ coach Justin Quenneville has his team brimming with confidence, but still knows there is work ahead.
“Upon reviewing our first half of the season, we feel we are leaving off a strong showing from the Showcase to sweeping the first place team into break,” said Quenneville. “If we continue to build forward on our consistent play, we look to take aim at moving up in the standings. Standings are not determined on strength of schedule. If it were, as a coach, I am confident our players have competed really well against our difficult strength of opponents up to the point. We would like to build on our recent road success more than anything and put ourselves in the best possible position to challenge for a division title.”
Over the course of the first half, goaltender Jake Stephan (Michigan Warriors), forwards Matt Dempsey (Keystone Ice Miners) and Kevin Shand (Springfield Jr. Blues) and defenseman and captain David Chavis II (Minnesota Wilderness) earned NAHL call-ups. All but Shand have since returned to Waterford.
At the league Showcase in early December, the Jets went 2-1, beating the Chicago Jr. Bulldogs and a team from the NA3EHL after narrowly losing a tight game to the Wisconsin Whalers.
After being off last weekend, Metro is back at it this weekend with a pair of home games at Lakeland Arena against the Cincinnati Swords. Game times are 7:50 p.m. Saturday night and then 11:50 a.m. Sunday.
In looking back at the first part of the season, the three Jets’ captains (Chavis, Dempsey, Cooper McLean) and goaltender Kam Limburg assessed the team at their respective positions.
Max Vance leads the Jets with 29 points in 29 games, while fellow NA3HL veteran Alex Holm has 23 points in 22 games and rookie Jason Newel has scored 13 goals thus far.
McLean, Dempsey, Andrew Sawyer, Cody Jones and Zach Koonce also have 20 or more points.
“We have young forward lines that are still adjusting to the pace of the game, but that being said, we have found good chemistry and move the puck well,” said Dempsey. “The forwards can produce more the second half of the season by continuing to work hard and be patient with the puck, as well as keeping a physical presence on the ice.”
“I feel like we've been playing good the first half,” added McLean. “Only problem I feel is that we're too up and down. If we want to find the success we're hoping for later on in the season, we need to be more consistent up front. We know we can be very good, but we just need to keep working hard and getting stronger as a team and keep winning hockey games.”
Kyle Shreve, Jake Sealy, Jacob Drinkard, Jacob Gleason, Graham Day and Spencer Graham have also progressed this season and should have added roles over the second half. Chas Distelrath has been adjusting to the junior level and also has the chance for more ice time this season.
FIRST-HALF GRADE: B+
Metro’s back end has been led by Chavis, as well as by rookies Jacob Rutkoske, Tyler Layle and Devin Kelly (who moved back to defense after starting the year as a forward) and veteran blueliners T.J. Krajewski and Chris Williams. Newcomer Evan Wilson should also help once he gets acclimated to the Jets’ systems and rookie Bruiser Freatman has been finding his game as of late.
“Our ‘D’ core has really stepped up and put a lot of work in to be where we're at now,” Chavis said. “We're playing good, but good is never good enough in this game. We're always getting on each other in practice and everyone holds everyone accountable for their action on the ice come game time. We've been playing really solid, shutdown defense and helping with some scoring, too, but we always expect more out of ourselves and each other.
“We have a lot of guys who feel comfortable moving up with the puck and rarely do we hesitate to take shots when we can. It’s all going to start in practice, but like I said, with how hard we push each other every day, I'm very confident that this group of ‘D’ will find a way to find the back of the net.”
FIRST-HALF GRADE: C
With the veteran Limburg and rookie Stephan battling it out for the No. 1 spot with capable Stephen Wroe also biding his time, the Jets’ goalie situation is the typical internal competition each team strives for.
“Being goalies, if a puck gets past us, we can always do something different in order to stop it,” Limburg said. “I don't really think there are any ‘no chance’ goals that happen in hockey – it either goes in or it doesn't. That being said, I think we have been playing well and have been winning some big games for our team. We all push each other to get better in practice and I think that really helps us. Our team has also been playing well in front of us, so credit to them, too.”
Stephan leads the team with nine wins, a 2.77 GAA and a .900 save percentage, while Limburg has posted six wins, a 3.11 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Each has recorded a shutout to boot. Wroe has the other two victories to go along with a 3.04 GAA and a .874 save percentage.
“I think the three of us can help our team during the second half of the season by making the big saves and timely saves when our team needs them,” said Limburg. “We know our team is going to give their best every game, so we have to be there to back them up when it's needed.”
FIRST-HALF GRADE: C+
Overall, the first half and potential to make a run in the second half has Quenneville readying the troops for Saturday night.
“Our guys are coming off the break confident and hungry,” said Quenneville. “That’s all you try to instill in your squad in preparation for upcoming games after time off. We feel we have showed success on the board in several categories from a development standpoint, a winning record and more call-ups than any other team.
“Look for the Jets to continue on that path and build towards a championship mentality.”