WATERFORD, Mich. – As a rookie last season with the Metro Jets, Cooper McLean had a pretty decent year.
He wants more this season and so far, it’s looking good as the Jets are sitting in first place in the East Division of the North American 3 Hockey League standings.
“I decided to come back this year because I wasn't ready for my junior hockey career to be over,” said McLean, a 19-year-old forward out of Farmington Hills, Mich. “Everyone is happy about what we've been doing lately, but the mood is definitely one of being hungry. We know we have to do better to stay on top, so everyone is working even harder.
“It's a family-like atmosphere in the locker room.”
The Jets are 9-5-0 on the year and 7-1 since a 2-4 start.
McLean has done his part, tallying five goals and nine points while playing in all 14 games. A season ago, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder scored 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 45 games and had to cope with the unfortunate death of his father, Don, around the mid-season mark.
“It's always good to have something to play for,” smiled McLean. “And I guess I found that.”
Metro coach Justin Quenneville has been pleased with McLean’s play thus far, but has been pushing him to truly use his sizeable frame to his advantage.
"Coop has been playing great of late,” Quenneville said. “He has worked hard off the ice and his conditioning is the best I have seen of him. If he finds that consistency of using his size to his advantage, he will be even more productive moving forward."
Earlier this season, McLean was named one of the team’s alternate captains along with forward Matt Dempsey. Defenseman David Chavis II is serving as captain.
“It means a lot to be a captain,” McLean said. “I'm very honored. The three of us get along very well, as does the whole team.”
"This is a great opportunity for Coop,” added Quenneville. “He is well-liked and looked up to by his peers in that locker room. Hopefully, that accountability will allow him to find another level on the ice as well."
When the time is right, McLean has his eyes set on the future and hopes being on the ice is part of the equation.
“The goal is to play college hockey somewhere and go into physical therapy/sports medicine,” said McLean. “Just have to keep working hard.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Jets took both ends of a home-and-home set with the Toledo Cherokee last weekend, winning 3-2 in a shootout Friday night at home and then rallying for a 6-5 win Saturday night.
"A great even strength effort by the guys,” said Quenneville. “The team fought through adversity and untimely calls, but were rewarded for their execution with a sweep of Toledo. Somebody out there didn't want to see the Jets win, with some of the strangest officiating events I've seen in my career, but our guys fought through the distractions. Good teams find ways to win no matter what, and we needed to dig deep this past weekend."
At Lakeland Arena to start the series, Zach Koonce scored in the first period for the Jets and then Max Vance’s shorthanded goal late in the third period pushed the game to overtime and then the shootout where Kam Limburg stopped four of the five Toledo shooters after Dempsey and Andrew Sawyer scored for Metro.
Limburg finished with 31 saves in the game.
The following night on the road, Metro went into the third period down 5-3 (and also allowed four power-play goals), but Jason Newel, Devin Kelly and Jake Sealy scored three unanswered goals to lift the Jets to a stunning 6-5 win.
Sealy, Kelly and Alex Holm all had a goal and an assist, while McLean and Tyler Layle also scored to back Jake Stephan’s 31-save outing.
This weekend, the Jets head to Jamestown, N.Y., to play the Southern Tier Xpress, a team they swept at home back on Oct. 4-5.
"This is a big test for our guys,” Quenneville said. “Winning consistently on the road is the most difficult task for any young team. Southern Tier has had a lot of success at home and we are putting in the necessary work to prepare for this weekend."
The Jets are 7-1-0 on home ice this season. Their lone loss was a 4-1 defeat to Toledo back on Sept. 12.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Two ex-Jets are now attending and playing ACHA Division I hockey at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in forward Andrew Palushaj and defenseman Andrew Shalawylo.
Palushaj is in his first season with the Wolverines, while Shalawylo is a sophomore.
Palushaj, a Livonia, Mich., native, skated in 41 games during the 2012-13 NA3HL season, recording 20 goals and 45 points, good for third in team scoring that season.
A Clinton Township, Mich., product, Shalawylo played two seasons (2010-12) in Waterford with three assists (all in games against Battle Creek) over 67 games.