WATERFORD, Mich. – Cooper McLean was an offensive juggernaut last season as a senior forward with Farmington High School.
McLean led the Falcons with 40 points and was a Division III Second Team All-State selection before signing a tender agreement to play in the North American 3 Hockey League with the Metro Jets.
Currently, the 18-year-old McLean has five goals and five assists for 10 points with the Jets, but his offense has been coming along recently, albeit in the face of adversity.
McLean’s father, Don, passed away at the age of 64 after a long illness back on Nov. 22.
“My dad made it his goal that me and him would be best friends, there was no gray area to that, so me and him were very close,” said McLean. “Growing up, he would be that dad that came to everything, games, practice, and even off-ice training just because he loved watching me get better. He definitely was a big part of my hockey life and helped me become the player I am today.”
Knowing his father’s last days were close, McLean did what only he could do and that was play hockey. The day Don passed, McLean was in suburban Chicago with the Jets at the NA3HL Showcase event.
McLean just got off the team bus when his mother called to tell him the news. Earlier that day, McLean scored Metro’s lone goal in an 8-1 loss to the Granite City Lumberjacks. He followed that up with two more goals in the team’s next two games at the Showcase.
“Those goals were definitely for my dad,” said McLean. “He, for sure, gave me the motivation.”
Jets’ coach Justin Quenneville said he’s been impressed by the way McLean has carried himself over the past month.
“These young men are incredible and I learn something new from them everyday,” Quenneville said. “Coop’s taught me so much and I can’t imagine what he went through over Thanksgiving, but the kids have been so resilient and so supportive of him, being what went on at the start of the season as well. It’s not unfamiliar territory, but it speaks volumes of his character to be positive and to bring that work ethic and drive on the ice.
“He’s been playing great hockey lately and I know his father is looking down on him and supporting him as well.”
Earlier this season, Metro forward Zach MacKay lost his father, Ron, under similar circumstances. McLean knew this and leaned on MacKay, quite literally, once Don died.
“When I found out, MacKay was the first one there to give me a hug, so yeah, he was definitely helping me out through it all,” said McLean. “In a way, I feel like ever since then, at least for me, our team has never been closer. We all have realized that we’re brothers and we’re getting through this together.”
McLean added that his game is starting to kick into high gear and hopes that momentum continues over the second half after the holidays.
"I want to be playing more physical and playing better defensively – that's probably my No. 1 goal by the end of the year,” McLean said. “From a personal standpoint, I think I started out slow and now, I'm starting to get the feel for the NA3 and hopefully, I start to turn things around. As a team, I think we started out as just a bunch of players on a team just playing hockey, but now we’re a team and we're definitely starting to play better.”
After the two games this week, the Jets break for the holidays, but McLean won’t be far from hockey.
“I don’t plan on doing anything really special, just spending time with friends and family,” said McLean. “And a lot of pond hockey.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Lucas Linville continued his torrid scoring pace and notched two more goals as the Jets downed the Michigan Mountain Cats 4-2 Sunday afternoon at Lakeland Arena.
Linville now has six goals in three games with the Jets.
Alex Holm and Jets' captain Josh Beleski also scored to go along with a 19-save effort from goaltender Trevor Kalinowski.
“I felt like we definitely took it to them early,” said Quenneville. “We knew they were going to be tired playing three-in-three, but we didn’t want to let that affect our game plan. Overall, a win’s a win, but I would have liked to see us put the game away earlier.”
Brad Hepler chipped in three assists and Carter Reid added a pair of helpers for the Jets (11-15-2).
The two teams have a short turnaround, facing each other tonight at Fraser Hockeyland. Puck drop is slated for 6:45 p.m.
“It's always good to get a win,” added Beleski. “Now all we have to do is keep winning because if we want to make the playoffs, we can't keep winning a game and then losing two or three. If we continue to play our game, then we will be fine.”
The Jets wrap up the 2013 calendar year with a game in Toledo at 7 p.m. against the Cherokee at the Team Toledo Ice House.
After practice Tuesday, the Jets gathered for an impromptu photo to wish everyone the best this holiday season. The photo can be seen on www.metrojetshockey.com, as well as on the Jets’ Twitter account (@MetroJetsHockey) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/metro.jets.hockey).
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The Canadian Hockey League, in association with the three regional leagues, the host Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and BMO Financial Group, announced last week the 40 CHL players that will compete in the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary, Alberta, on Jan. 15, 2014.
One of the 40 players chosen was Plymouth Whalers' goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who played for the Jets last season, and is looked at as a possible first-round pick next June in Philadelphia. He is currently ranked No. 30 (last pick of the first round) by Red Line Report, an independent scouting newsletter.
Nedeljkovic, a 17-year-old native of Parma, Ohio, went 5-3-0 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in nine games with the Jets.