WATERFORD, MI – As the Metro Jets players and staff gathered for the annual team photo at Lakeland Arena recently, it seemed to bring closure to a season that put the Jets back on the junior hockey map.
With 29 wins during the regular season after a combined 32 the previous three seasons, Metro had the right mix of talented players who all accepted their roles and bought into the system head coach Jason Cirone taught.
Cirone feels that even though the Jets were knocked out of the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs in the first round, the season was still everything he expected it to be.
“You go over in your mind ways you might have done things differently, like picked up different players or made different moves, but I came to the conclusion every time that we did it the right way,” said Cirone. “There’s not one thing I would change about this season.”
Metro defenseman Will Shier, one of the team’s alternate captains, agreed with Cirone.
“This season was great and was the best season the Jets have had in many years,” said Shier. “We had an unbelievable amount of talent and probably the hardest working group of guys I’ve ever seen. All of us developed and had a positive impact on each other this year.
“This season was definitely different from last year. Last year was the start of what we created this season. We worked hard last year, surprised a lot of people, and showed everyone what the Jets were capable of in the future. This season, we only improved and doubled our wins from last year. Now everyone knows the Jets are a great hockey team and are no longer an underdog.”
All season, Cirone stressed the importance of hard work and the circumstances it brings. Again, the players were sold on what Cirone was teaching and it paid off dramatically.
“It’s easy for me to call a coach at a higher level and tell them to come look at one of our kids because he works hard and is a good player,” Cirone said. “It’s the kids that put it all on the line. Every one of our kids put in the effort and worked hard all year, right to the end.”
As a second-year coach, Cirone came in at the start of the 2010-11 season and the team was pretty much set. After last season, Cirone and the Jets’ staff set out to build a team from scratch. A handful of players from the ’10-11 season were back with the Jets, but Metro built the core of the team from the draft and from scouting free agents.
Steve Klisz was taken with one of the last picks in the 2011 NA3HL draft and wound up leading the Jets in scoring. Mike MacKinnon kept pace with Klisz all year in the scoring department and both finished in a second-place tie in the league scoring race.
Dillon Kelley emerged as a little-known goalie to one of the league’s best and picked up 18 wins this year, good for third in the league. Tommy Kilgore wore the ‘C’ for the Jets in his second season and led the team with a quiet, but confident, tone. Doug Andrews came to Waterford looking to fine-tune his offensive game and earned praise all year from Cirone as one of the Jets’ more consistent players.
On defense, where injuries depleted the back end most nights, the team held up and was able to see players like John Baker and Adam Reid play 30 minutes a game and come to rely on Kelley to make the big saves when called upon.
Without singling out certain players, even those that have plans in place for next season, Cirone instead focused on how the Jets became a team on and off the ice, which in turn made his job a little bit easier.
“With the help of a lot of dedicated people, we selected a really good team this year,” said Cirone. “This isn’t just my team. It might say it’s my team on paper, but we have some unbelievable people here that helped put this team together. When I think about, no one guy sticks out as being that superstar. These kids worked as a team and played as a team and as a unit, these kids came a long way.”
Shier sees brighter days ahead in Waterford.
“After many rough seasons, I believe the players from last year’s team and this year’s team really built a great foundation for this organization,” said Shier. “We showed everyone there are many great things to come. I believe the team will only move forward from here.
“We have a lot of young guys that can take this team to the top and achieve great things.”
Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images