Kopinski adjusting to pace of NA3HL

WATERFORD, Mich. – Zach Kopinski is realizing that the North American 3 Hockey League season can be a grind.

After starting the season on a fast note for the Metro Jets, including scoring two goals against Cincinnati in the fourth game of the year, Kopinski has admitted that he’s cooled off, but it’s not a concern at the moment.

“On a personal level, I started off the year hot – I was scoring and was feeling good,” Kopinski said. “Recently, I haven't been able to find the back of the net as easy. Things will turn around and I will be able to make the impact as I feel I can. As a team, we started off the year great and now we’re in a little bit of a slump, but this road trip to St. Louis should give us the spark we need to play as we did in the first few games of the season.”

Kopinski, an 18-year-old from Royal Oak, skated last season for the Detroit Falcons 18U AAA team (pictured above) in the North American Prospects Hockey League.

“The Falcons and the NAPHL prepared me for this season because it gave me a little extra time to dial in my skill set that I could carry to this season,” Kopinski said. “I didn't have much previous knowledge about the NA3. I would just hear my friends talk about it because they had older brothers who played in the league. By playing in the NAPHL, we had some conjoined showcases were I had some chances to watch some (NA3HL) games.”

With three goals and three assists for six points through 13 games this year, Kopinski knows he can contribute at the NA3HL level. Points aside, he also feels his intangibles are a valued asset to the Jet and will help him ascend the hockey ladder.

”I think the strongest part of my game currently would be my aggressiveness and grittiness,” explained Kopinski. “I feel I need to improve my hands to move to the next level. It will give me a better chance on dekes and moves and should give myself more opportunities to score or create plays. I want to be able to go to a good college and be able to get a degree while I still have the chance to play the game I've loved for so many years.”

Living at home and playing junior hockey is an added plus for Kopinski.

”It's nice being close to the rink everyday and I get to enjoy a lot of time with my family,” said Kopinski. “It was weird at first, though, because at the start of the year, I was still at home and all my friends left for college and it kind of felt like a ghost town. Recently, me and Travis Baranoski have become quite close because he is staying in Royal Oak with relatives.
 
“At the end of the day, I am glad the Jets drafted me. I love being here with my teammates and brothers.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

The Flint Jr. Generals defeated the Jets 7-4 last Saturday night at Lakeland Arena on the strength of a hat trick from veteran Jacob Howie.

Kevin Shand recorded a goal and two assists for the Jets, while captain Josh Beleski had a goal and an assist.

Baranoski and T.J. Krajewski also scored and Davide Mantovani and Kameron Limburg combined to make 18 saves in goal for the Jets.

“We can take a lot of positives from the Flint game,” said Beleski. “The first period was a little rough, but the last two, we showed a ton of heart and we were all over them. If we would have played hard in all three periods, then we would have won that game. I think the guys are starting to realize how dangerous of a team we are and things are going to start turning around for us in a positive way.”

Metro (5-7-1) heads to St. Louis this weekend to play the Jr. Blues. Game time is 9 p.m. Saturday night and then 2 p.m. on Sunday.

JET STREAKS

Metro added 18-year-old defenseman John Garst last week and the Cheboygan native made his Jets’ debut against Flint. Garst was drafted in the second round (33rd overall) of the 2013 NA3HL draft … Forward Chad Bailey was released last week … Veteran defenseman Brad Hepler not only leads the Jets in scoring, but is third among all NA3HL blueliners with 13 points this year.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Dillon Kelley, a goaltender who suited up for the Jets during the 2011-12 season, is now in his second season with the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League.

Kelley went 18-8-1 with a 3.62 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage with the Jets and also saw time in the United States Hockey League at the end of the 2011-12 season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Last season, the 19-year-old Petoskey native started the year with the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays (and Jets’ head coach Justin Quenneville, then Corpus Christi’s head coach) before joining the Flint-based Warriors early in the season.

This year, Kelley is 3-3-0 for the Warriors with a 2.42 GAA and a .887 save percentage with one shutout.