WATERFORD, MI – Admittedly, Zack MacKay hasn’t had the season he envisioned when he signed with the Metro Jets last summer.
Suffering an injury in the season-opening game against Battle Creek, the 19-year-old forward from Brighton said that set him back a bit, but he has continued to improve and round out his overall game to the point where it’s obvious why the Jets tabbed him in the second round of last summer’s NA3HL draft.
“I had come to one of the open tryouts and immediately, one of the assistant coaches came up to me and asked where I planned on playing and which teams I had talked to,” said MacKay. “I told him the only place I had gone to try out was for the Michigan Warriors in the NAHL and that another NA3HL team was interested in me. After the first skate, (Metro head coach) Jason (Cirone) called me out of the locker room and told me he wanted me and said he was going to try and draft me in the first round. I told him I'd love to play for him and had no interest in the other team.
“I didn't know much of anything about the team or the league, but one of my coaches last year (with the Detroit Falcons 18U AAA team in the NAPHL) had told me about Jason and the Jets and said it'd be in my best interest to go skate with them and see how it was. Last year was my first time playing AAA. I had played high school before that (pictured, at Brighton High School) and it was a lot faster and better competition. It helped me prepare for juniors just with the speed of the game play.”
MacKay planned on being among the team leaders in scoring this year, but it hasn’t panned out. He said the injury played a major role.
”I feel the role I carry is that of leadership and playing physical, as well as playing strong defensively,” MacKay said. “With my injury in the first game of the season, I had lost a lot of what I trained for in the summer – shooting, stickhandling and overall conditioning. I truly don't think I’ve had a good season at all. The injury set me back way too much and since then, I haven’t been able to get back to where I was.”
As a team, the Jets have played with a young roster all season and are currently mired in fifth place in the East Division – out of the playoffs at this point. That said, no one is throwing in the towel on this season.
“The mood is constant throughout the team where everyone is sick of the results we have been getting,” MacKay said. “I think our captain, Matt Stirling, is best at keeping everyone loose. We're not trying to be loose about the situation, but it’s hard to keep a positive attitude when everyone does their job, works hard, but we just can’t get a break.
“We need to take it one game at a time, while keeping the whole picture in mind. Yeah, we need to focus on the next game at hand, but we also need to remember that each game is crucial for us to get a playoff spot. Everyone has been showing more heart lately, so I'd have to assume everyone else is thinking the same way.”
And going one day at a time is the same philosophy MacKay takes when it comes to his individual career.
“My long-term goal is to play college hockey, but as the season has progressed, I think it's been changing to just playing in the NAHL or BCHL or any higher tier,” said MacKay. “It's changed because of the situation the team is in now and how we need to take it one game at a time. For me, it’s the same idea – one level of hockey at a time.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Metro had a three-game weekend that started off with a 3-2 loss to Flint last Thursday night at Iceland Arena in Flint and finished with a two-game sweep in Quad City.
Zach Hill figured in on all three of Flint's goals as the Jr. Generals skated to a 3-2 win over the Jets. Hill scored the tying goal and the go-ahead goal in the second period and also assisted on Jacob Howie's goal early in the first period.
For the Jets, Stirling scored in the dying seconds of the first period and Kyle Shreve, fresh off signing a tender with the NAHL's Springfield Jr. Blues the day before, tallied 73 seconds into the middle period.
Jets' goaltender Riley Corbin took the loss, but finished with 37 saves.
The Jets then ventured to play a two-game set on the road against the Jr. Flames and won both at the Rivers Edge in Davenport, Iowa.
Corbin stopped all 31 shots he faced as the Jets defeated Quad City 5-0 Saturday night.
Mike Gambino scored two goals for the Jets in his first game back from a hand injury, while defenseman Derek Britton made his return to the lineup since a December shoulder injury and contributed a pair of assists while going plus-3 on the night.
Stirling had a goal and an assist in the win and Brad Hepler and Chris Mayer also scored.
Devon D'Angelo and Andrew Palushaj added two assists apiece for the Jets.
Doug Andrews figured in on eight of the Jets' goals Sunday afternoon in a 9-2 win over the Jr. Flames.
Andrews, who was subsequently named the NA3HL’s 3rd Star of the Week, scored five goals and tacked on three assists to go along with a plus-5 rating and Corbin picked up his second straight win with a 35-save outing.
“Doug had been in a little funk, but the most important thing was he has never stopped working hard,” said Cirone. “He finally put it all together and everything he touched seemed to go in or produce offense.”
Michael Lawrence had a goal and three assists and Shreve and Palushaj each went for a goal and an assist in the victory.
Mayer chipped in three assists and Britton also scored.
The Jets (15-21-2-0) stay on the road this week with a game at the Great Lakes Sports City in Fraser tonight at 6:45 p.m. against the Michigan Mountain Cats, who the Jets leap-frogged for fifth place in the East Division last weekend.
After tonight, the Jets head to Troy to play in the NA3HL Showcase at the Troy Sports Center. Metro plays the Breezy Point North Stars on Sunday at 5 p.m., the Queen City Steam next Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. and then concludes with the Minnesota Flying Aces next Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Forward Ryan Chapie (broken collarbone, out for season) and goaltender Austin Julvezan were released just prior to the NA3HL roster freeze on Feb. 10 and forward Anthony Saleh was traded to the Elliot Lake Bobcats of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The Jets also signed Farmington High School forward Cooper McLean to a tender for next season.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Cameron Bazin, a forward who played two seasons with the Jets from 2010-12, is currently in his freshman season at Olivet College where he is a member of the school’s lacrosse team.
Bazin, a 20-year-old from Troy, tallied 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 68 games with the Jets.
The Olivet lacrosse season starts Feb. 23.