WATERFORD, MI – For the Metro Jets and Chris Hellebuyck, the second time was the charm.
The Jets drafted Hellebuyck in 2010, but the Commerce Township native elected to play midget hockey last season with the Lansing Capitals.
When the 2011 North American 3 Hockey League draft came around this past June, Hellebuyck was again drafted by the Jets and this time, he made the decision to make the jump to junior hockey.
“When I signed with Metro, I knew a little about the league and I had a chance to skate with (Jets head coach) Jason (Cirone) the season before, so I knew a little about him as well,” said the 19-year-old Hellebuyck. “I feel lucky to play for a coach who I will learn from, rather than just play for, and so far I've really enjoyed the hockey in this league.”
Playing on a forward line with Doug Andrews and Josh Beleski, the trio has accounted for almost a third of the team’s scoring this season. Hellebuyck has two goals and eight points through five games.
“I think that getting to play with players like Andrews and Beleski has helped a lot,” Hellebuyck said. “Andrews is always their picking up where I left off with the puck and Beleski always seems to be in position. I also think that getting that first goal and having a good first game was very important for me. It takes a lot of pressure off me as a player so I can continue to try and get better now.”
The Jets had actually hoped for two Hellebuycks to be playing in Waterford this season and signed goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Chris’s younger brother, to a tender last May. Connor earned a tryout with the expansion Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League and made the team.
Still, having the older Hellebuyck is a great situation for the Jets.
“My goal in hockey is to earn a college degree with it and I think that junior hockey is the best route,” Hellebuyck said. “I would really like to play with my brother in Texas if I were given that opportunity, too. This season, my biggest expectation for myself is to improve on what I know were my weak spots last year. I would also like to make sure that I can help my team on the offensive side of the ice as well as the defensive side.”
To keep improving, Hellebuyck looks to two Detroit Red Wings forwards for inspiration.
”I really enjoy watching Pavel Datsyuk play because he is always where he needs to be,” explained Hellebuyck. “It looks like he's not working hard, but he will always be in the right place. I also enjoy watching Darren Helm play because it is somewhat of the opposite. He works hard and creates his opportunities that way.”
If the first five games are any indication, Hellebuyck will be enjoying a multitude of opportunities this year with Metro.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Matt Stemkoski scored the game-tying goal and then the overtime game-winner as the Jets came from behind and topped the Flint Jr. Generals, 4-3, last Saturday night at Lakeland Arena.
The Jets, now 4-1-0-0, took a 2-1 lead into the third period on goals from Matt Stirling and Beleski before Luke McDiarmid and Edward Osowski gave Flint the lead with 1:06 to play.
With goalie Devin Williams on the bench for the extra skater, Stemkoski beat Flint goalie Dominic Orlando at 19:19 to send the game to the extra session where Stemkoski won it at 2:33.
Williams finished with 30 saves and has been in net for all four Jets' victories this year.
Mike McKinnon and Steve Klisz added two assists apiece for Metro.
The Jets host the Battle Creek Jr. Revolution (0-6-0-0) this weekend for a two-game series. Both games Friday and Saturday night at Lakeland start at 7:50 p.m.
The Jets released 17-year-old rookie defenseman Neal Krentz (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) prior to the game against Flint. Krentz had not seen any game action this season.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Vinnie Pietrangelo, Metro’s top draft pick in 2009, is entering his sophomore season at Finlandia University this fall on the Lions’ blueline.
Pietrangelo, a 20-year-old Traverse City, Mich., native, tallied a goal and nine points in 47 games with the Jets during the 2009-2010 season. Last year with FU, he had two assists while playing in all 24 games.
Pietrangelo’s third cousin, Alex Pietrangelo, is starting his second season with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. Vinnie’s father, Tony, is third cousins with Alex's uncle, Frank Pietrangelo, himself a former NHL goaltender with Pittsburgh and Hartford in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Photo by Andy Grossman