WATERFORD, Mich. – It’s no secret that the Metro Jets had a young and inexperienced team last season that waited until the final game of the regular season to qualify for the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs.
After a first-round exit at the hands of the Flint Jr. Generals, the offseason began in earnest for the Jets and recruiting became the club’s top priority.
Now with the 2014-15 season opener on tap for Saturday night, the roster is just about set and optimism is peaking at Lakeland Arena.
“As a staff we are pleased and excited about our lineup,” Metro head coach Justin Quenneville said. “We feel we addressed our needs offensively based on the transactions in the offseason and the recruiting class coming in. We still have some difficult decisions to make and cut down by a couple bodies, but ultimately as a staff, we want to be forced into making difficult decisions. The players will dictate those decisions through their play.”
This season, 12 returning players are back with the Jets, including forwards Cody Jones (Keego Harbor), Kyle Shreve (Wixom), Kyle Downey (Canton), Connor McLean (Farmington Hills), Matt Dempsey (New Baltimore) and Alex Holm (West Bloomfield) and defensemen T.J. Krajewski (Macomb) and Aaron Bessey (Howell, played with the Jets in 2012-13). Defenseman Chris Williams (Davison) and forwards Jake Gleason (Madison Heights) and Max Vance (Berkley) played last season for the Michigan Mountain Cats and forward Zach Koonce (Lake Orion) skated for Flint.
McLean said the mood around the team right now is one of confidence and determination.
“Every one of us is working hard and are excited for the season to start,” McLean said. “To be honest, I don't feel like we have a weakness, so our strengths would be all positions – forward, defense and the goalies.”
“Everyone's excited and eager to get going,” added Williams. “Every practice has a high energy and competitive level. We are going to be solid, all-around team with a lot of experience deep into our lineup.”
All three goalies are new this year in Wisconsin native Jake Stephan, the lone out-of-state player on the roster, Ryan VanderWoude (Grand Rapids) and Stephen Wroe (Ferndale).
“Everyone is getting along, even with guys that we traded for like Koonce, Gleason, Williams and Vance,” said Krajewski. “We are all bonding as a team and it's a great way to start of the season. I feel like we are very strong up front and we are going to pose a threat every game we play. Our goaltenders are stronger this year for sure and they look good in practice already. Our defense is also going to be tough to play against – big, tough and physical. We are going to be a force in (the East) division this year.”
Rookies with Metro this year include forwards Andrew Sawyer (Trenton), Devin Kelly (Livonia), Jake Sealy (Canton), Jason Newel (Canton), Spencer Graham (Cadillac) and Graham Day (Rochester) and defensemen David Chavis (Grosse Pointe Woods), Ellis “Bruiser” Freatman (Ann Arbor), Tyler Layle (Grandville), Tyler Baker (Saline) and Jake Rutkoske (Macomb).
Quenneville, who will once again have Randy Wilson joining him on the bench as an assistant coach, has a simple outlook for the season.
“Our expectations are simple – buy into the process,” said Quenneville. “We want players that have the right mindset and are willing to believe in that process to becoming a championship team. As a staff, we look to continue to develop and promote players as we did in the past, but we would like to get better as a team over the course of the season. One thing is straight and that’s our style of play. We will be a hard to team to play against again and will be aggressive on pucks.
“If the players buy in early and continue to grow as a team throughout the season, we could be that team to beat in the end. Why not us?”
The Jets start their 26th season of junior hockey this Saturday night with a 7:50 p.m. puck drop at Lakeland Arena against the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks.
Holm photo/Ron MacKay