FRASER, Mich. – Andrew Shalawylo grew up playing at Fraser Hockeyland and during his junior hockey career, spent two seasons with the Metro Jets.
Shalawylo is also a prime example of what the Jets as an organization preaches on a daily basis – play well in the NA3HL, get a chance to keep playing hockey in college.
A junior defenseman at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Shalawylo will be back at his old stomping grounds this Saturday night to drop the ceremonial first puck as the Jets host the West Michigan Wolves at 7:30 p.m.
“That rink has always had a soft spot in my heart and I'm so glad to see it getting the TLC it deserves,” said Shalawylo. “I remember a lot of different teams and organizations work their way through the building, but I've never seen one come in with such a well-organized and holistic plan. I'm beyond excited to see this team and organization become one that others strive to emulate. From everything I've seen so far, the Jets are well on their way to being a flagship organization in junior hockey.”
A 23-year-old native of nearby Clinton Township, Shalawylo played for the Jets at Lakeland Arena in Waterford from 2010-12 and played 67 games as a reliable stay-at-home rearguard.
Shalawylo said he has too many memories to mention from his time with the Jets, but did reflect on a couple.
“In 2010, I got cut last-minute from an NAHL team that I thought I would end up playing for and after that happened, I tried out and made the Toledo Cherokee,” explained Shalawylo. “At that time, Toledo was heavy on defensemen and the Jets had the opposite problem, so the decision was made to send me to the Jets and the rest is history.”
Getting acclimated to the NA3HL was something that happened almost immediately for Shalawylo.
“I'll never forget the first words spoken to me by one of my new teammates when I took my first step into the locker room,” said Shalawylo. “It's not something that can be put in print, but it definitely left a lasting impression. My first real junior game in Cincinnati was some of the most fun I've ever had playing hockey. In hindsight, I'm sure I looked like a fish out of water not being used to the size, speed and skill of the junior game, but everything felt so smooth and effortless for me the entire game.
“I felt like I could've played the entire 60 minutes.”
After the 2011-12 season when the Jets were bounced in the playoffs by the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks (now Wooster Oilers), Shalawylo saw his hockey career at a crossroads.
“I remember sitting in the locker room after our Game 3 loss to Cleveland in the 2012 playoffs and at that point, I wasn't sure if I'd play another competitive hockey game again,” Shalawylo said. “I must have sat there for 20 minutes after the game refusing to take my jersey off. That was when I realized just how lucky I am to get the opportunity to do something that so few people can.”
Two seasons later, Shalawylo was lacing up the skates in Dearborn for the rebranded Wolverines. He said his time with Metro definitely made him a college-caliber player.
“The biggest thing is probably learning how to cope with the schedule,” explained Shalawylo. “Before juniors, you'd skate 3-4 days a week, counting games. Once you start practicing 4-5 times a week and having two games every single weekend, taking care of your body becomes a major concern, as does managing your time properly. With all that work being put in on a day in, day out basis, hockey can feel like a job sometimes, but with the Jets I learned that above all the competitiveness and dreams, hockey is still a game, and you have to remember to have fun and enjoy every second of it, because it'll be over sooner than you realize.”
Now a fixture on the Wolverines’ back end, Shalawylo is soaking everything in and making memories that will last a lifetime.
“It's been an absolute blast,” Shalawylo beamed. “We've been improving as a team every year since I've been here and the future looks bright. I've had some of the best teammates and made some of the best friends a guy could ask for on the team. I haven't quite been as consistent as I'd like to be, but I'm playing college hockey and getting an education.
“What more could I ask for?”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Jets split their home series with the Southern Tier Xpress last weekend, losing 5-3 Saturday night and then rebounding for a 3-1 win Sunday afternoon.
In the loss, Kevin Shand registered a hat trick for the Jets, but Southern Tier exploded for four second-period goals, all on the power play, to gain the two points.
Michael Tratar had a pair of assists, while Kam Limburg and Trevor Kalinowski combined to make 22 saves in the Metro net.
Sunday afternoon, Mathias Tellstrom, Graham Day and Jason Newel scored, Tratar added two more assists and the Jets penalty kill was a perfect 6-for-6.
Limburg pinned down the win between the pipes with a 22-save effort.
“This is a good division with good teams, top to bottom, and you have to be ready,” said Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville. “Teams are going to come harder at you and I’m glad the guys played for what was important Sunday getting the split and we’ll get past this and build on it.”
This weekend, the East Division-leading Jets (13-3-1) play a home-and-home with West Michigan, starting Friday night at Kalamazoo’s Wings West for an 8:20 p.m. start before coming home Saturday night for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
Saturday night’s game is also the first of two Education Awareness Nights – bring a donation of school supplies to the game and get a free voucher for a future Jets game.
Tickets are available for $5 at the Fraser Hockeyland box office starting at 6 p.m. Saturday night or by emailing Nancy Krajewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The games this weekend will also be streamed live on www.fasthockey.com.
The Jets made a handful of transactions this week to address the logjam on defense.
On Tuesday, Nick Papandrea was dealt to Toledo to complete the Cam Schwartz trade from the summer and then veteran T.J. Krajewski was traded to West Michigan on Thursday for future considerations.
Papandrea had one goal in six games this season, while Krajewski, in his fourth season with the Jets, posted a goal and five points in 11 games this year.
Rejoining the Jets from the NAHL’s Aston Rebels is David Chavis II, who will be in the lineup this weekend against the Wolves.
“This is part of junior hockey and every week, teams are looking to be more competitive and actively make moves,” Quenneville said. “We always want to make the right decisions for the organization, but more importantly, for the players first, and we wish nothing but success to Nick and T.J. Having the opportunity to get back last year’s captain and presence in David will continue to help make us a competitive program this season.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Alex Nedeljkovic, now in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Flint Firebirds, saw action in nine games with the Jets as a 16-year-old rookie back in 2012-13.
Nedeljkovic, then a third-string goalie with the Plymouth Whalers, was sent to the Jets to stay fresh and get game action and went 5-3-0 with a 2.49 GAA and a .933 save percentage. He was also named the NA3HL’s Goaltender of the Month for Nov. 2012 and then the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year in 2014.
Drafted in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL draft, Nedeljkovic signed with the Hurricanes last spring and is currently 4-4-0 with a 3.50 GAA and .899 save percentage with Flint.