WATERFORD, MI – Just because the Metro Jets didn’t qualify for the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs doesn’t mean all was lost this season at Lakeland Arena.
After all, one more win and the Jets would have been a .500 team.
And a few less injuries and perhaps the Jets would be preparing for the opening round of the postseason.
“We let too many points slip away early in the season and it cost us at the end,” said third-year Jets’ coach Jason Cirone. “Going into the season, we had three guys coming back, made some trades in the summer, had a good draft and signed some free agents after some of the guys we tendered didn’t show up. Once the season started, we were very inconsistent and had to deal with so many major injuries. I don’t think I have ever dealt with as many injuries this season as I have in all my years of coaching combined.
“At one point in the season, we only dressed 16 players and called up some Midget Major players to fill in. When that happens, you struggle because there is no chemistry with guys in and out of the lineup. Last year, we had that chemistry because we didn’t have any major injuries.”
Finishing 22-23-3-0 on the year, including a thrilling 4-3 win last Sunday over the East Division champion Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks at Lakeland Arena to conclude the regular season, the Jets had a shot to make the NA3HL postseason with less than a week left in the season, but a loss in Flint on March 5 shut those hopes down.
Cirone said that while the players were obviously disappointed, they still played out the last two games of the year last weekend against Cleveland.
“The day after the Flint game at practice, I could tell the guys were down,” said Cirone. “Then we play Cleveland Saturday and lose 9-2 in what essentially was a throw-away game, but then we come out and win on Sunday in a game that I think really showed what type of team we had this year. There was no quit in any of these kids and I’m proud of the way they got through the season.”
Playing with just two 20-year-olds this season in captain Matt Stirling and alternate captain Doug Andrews, replacing that pair will be a chore this offseason.
“Matt’s been here for three years and I was just saying the other day how hard it will be to make out the lineup card next season and not write his name on it,” Cirone said. “He and Dougie put up some great numbers this year and I would expect to see them both playing college hockey somewhere next season. We had just the two ‘92s and some teams had upwards of 10. We had a very young team this year.”
“There are tons of memories I will take from my time with the Jets,” added Stirling. “I think of at least two dozen right away that I will never forget like fights, road trips, coaches, teammates, goals, things like that. Some standouts in general are the times spent with the guys in the locker room and on the road, the lessons learned from Jason along with others over the years and the things I have learned about the game along the way.
“I wouldn’t trade those for anything else.”
Cirone is also counting on losing other players to the North American Hockey League, but in the business of developing players for that next level, that’s perfectly acceptable to Cirone.
“Andrew Palushaj has played in the NAHL and I see no reason if he gets healthy that he can play there again,” said Cirone. “Also guys like Alex Holm, Mike Gambino and Myles Burrough, who I think could be a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NAHL, should get a shot and Kyle Shreve has a good chance after he tendered with Springfield.
“That being said, we want to win next year. You never know who’s coming back next year and a lot of these kids think they’re ready for the NAHL, but in reality, they’re not. (Jets’ assistant coach) Randy Wilson has done a great job all season tracking kids we like and might look at drafting (on June 4 at the NA3HL Entry Draft). We should have a good draft again with two first-round picks, one second, one third and two fifth-round picks.
“I’m looking forward to the draft and to next season. Like I said, we want to win.”