WATERFORD, MI – Andrew Palushaj has some pretty good hockey bloodlines and has brought them to the Metro Jets this year after starting the season in the North American Hockey League.
The cousin of Aaron Palushaj, a former University of Michigan star with 41 games of NHL experience under his belt with the Montreal Canadiens, Andrew played 19 games last year with the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes (pictured) after an All-State season in 2010-11 at Livonia Stevenson High School.
Making the jump to Junior A was an adjustment at first for Palushaj, but one he feels is now under control.
“I feel that the season has been going pretty good so far,” said the 19-year-old Livonia native. “We are starting to figure things out as a team and are becoming better everyday. It's a pretty big jump because the league has a faster pace and is a lot more physical. I would love to get the chance to play at the NAHL level again, but right now, I'm just working on my skills and trying to become a better hockey player each day I come to the rink.”
Palushaj even admitted that he sometimes gets mistaken for his cousin or asked if Aaron is his brother, but he doesn’t mind the attention at all.
“I think that what he accomplished is amazing and he made his dream a reality,” Andrew said of Aaron. “I would love to be able to get to where he is today. I give him a lot of credit for what he does. He shows that if you work hard enough that you can accomplish anything you want to and I am very proud of him and want nothing but the best for him as he continues his hockey career.”
Before coming to the Jets and the North American 3 Hockey League, Palushaj said he didn’t know a great deal about the team or the league. He said he has since realized that both provide great opportunities for advancing up the hockey ladder.
“I would love to win a championship with this team and I think we have a great set of guys and have the ability to do it if we work hard enough this season,” Palushaj said. “I didn't know that much about the league as a whole, but I knew the Jets had been known to move a lot of players on to higher levels and that made me want to be a part of this organization.”
Palushaj also gave props to Jets’ head coach Jason Cirone.
“I think coach Jason is a great guy and has a lot to offer to our team,” noted Palushaj. “He has a lot of hockey sense and a great hockey background. I think I can learn a lot from him that will help benefit me on and off the ice.”
Thinking towards the future, Palushaj has a game plan and one he hopes can fulfill to the highest degree.
“My short-term hockey goal would be to help benefit this team any way I can and keep scoring as much as I can,” said Palushaj. “My long-term goal would be to hopefully get a scholarship so I can keep playing.”
And with nine points in eight games this season, the Jets are banking on him providing offense and leadership that will trickle down to the rest of the players.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Flint Jr. Generals scored late in the third period to knot the game at 3-all, but the Jets eked out a 4-3 win in a shootout last Friday night at Lakeland Arena to extend their winning streak to three games.
Palushaj scored two goals for the Jets, while captain Matt Stirling had a goal and two assists and Mike Gambino a goal and an helper.
“The Flint game was an all-around great game,” Stirling said. “We played well in every area of the ice and stayed out of the penalty box to get the win. That is the way we should play every night and what it will take to win key games in this league.”
Flint led 2-1 after two periods before Palushaj and Stirling scored in the third to put the Jets ahead.
Nick Gnagni recorded the equalizer at 19:08 of the third with goalie Patrick Drazkowski on the bench for the extra attacker.
In the shootout, Metro goalie Austin Julvezan stopped three of the four Flint shooters and picked up his first win of the season. Julvezan made 24 saves in the game.
Drazkowski finished with 32 saves in the Flintnet, while Eddie Osowski had a goal and an assist.
The Jets (5-6-0-0) face the Michigan Mountain Cats on the road in Fraser this Saturday night before returning home Sunday afternoon to host the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks at 2:50 p.m.
“I expect for us to come out with four points as we need them to keep pace in our division,” said Stirling. “These teams are both talented and can be tough to play against if you don’t prepare all week for them. I expect Michigan to be aggressive all over the ice and to be able to keep pace with us for 60 minutes. Cleveland we have played before and know what kind of effort it will take to play them.
“Both games will be a challenge, but if we play how we know we can, we should come out with four points.”
Stirling’s 19 points are good for a sixth-place tie among NA3HL scoring leaders, while Doug Andrews’ 18 points puts him in an 11th-place tie.
Goaltender Trevor Kalinowski is in the top 10 for save percentage (.905) and goals-against average (2.81).
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Jon Cooper coached the Jets to the 2002 Silver Cup Junior B national title and has seemingly won everywhere he has been since.
Cooper guided the St. Louis Bandits to consecutive NAHL titles, the Green Bay Gamblers to a United States Hockey League crown and last year, won an American Hockey League Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals, the top affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This season, Cooper is back with the Tampa Bay organization as head coach of the Syracuse Crunch after being rumored to make the jump to the NHL over the summer.
Photo by David Byerly/Odessa Jackalopes