WATERFORD, MI – Matt Stemkoski quietly came to the Metro Jets in a trade last season from the Toledo Cherokee, but is making noise this year as Metro’s leading scorer after a 10-point outburst last weekend against the Battle Creek Jr. Revolution.
The North American 3 Hockey League subsequently recognized the 18-year-old Novi, Mich., native with its Combat Hockey 1st Star honors for last week.
“Matt’s a kid that came in last year and struggled a bit,” said Jets’ head coach Jason Cirone. “He had moved from forward to defense and then back. This year, he’s comfortable at center and has really elevated his game. Instead of waiting for plays to happen, he’s going out and making things happen. He’s creating his own openings.”
Last season in 27 games after the trade, Stemkoski posted eight goals and 11 points. This season, he’s light years ahead of that pace with eight goals and 11 assists in just seven games playing on a line with Mike McKinnon and Steve Klisz. That line has accounted for 22 of Metro’s 44 goals so far.
Cirone knew Stemkoski was capable of that type of offensive production last year after having scouted Stemkoski during his later youth hockey years. The only problem was that Toledo coach Scott Syring also knew that Stemkoski had the potential to be a breakout player.
“Stemkoski was a kid I wanted to try and get from day one when I walked through the doors here,” Cirone said. “I called Scott a few times to inquire about Matt and each time, Scott said he wasn’t available. Then one day, Scott called me back and said he was available, so we jumped on it.”
And while the stats have been a big reason why the Jets are 6-1-0-0 early in the season, Cirone said Stemkoski’s makeup is more than numbers.
“He’s a very committed hockey player and his goal is to go play college hockey,” said Cirone. “He’s a good kid and he’s a leader in our locker room, which is why he’s one of our alternate captains this year. I think he realizes what it is going to take to get to the next levels of hockey.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Jets outscored Battle Creek, 19-5, last Friday and Saturday night at Lakeland Arena.
In the first game of the series, Stemkoski scored once and added three assists in a 10-4 win.
McKinnon (two goals, assist), Klisz (goal, two assists), Matt Stirling (goal, two assists), Travis Hargett (three assists) and Jake Schlacht (three assists) all had three-point games.
“It was good seeing Stirling come out of his early-season funk,” said Cirone. “I also thought Hargett had a great weekend.”
Chris Hellebuyck added two goals and Tim Wlodkowski, Zach Schlacht and captain Tommy Kilgore scored one apiece.
Dillon Kelley made 15 saves for the win between the pipes.
Saturday night in a 9-1 victory, Stemkoski notched two goals and four assists and McKinnon chipped in with a pair of goals and three assists. Klisz added a goal and three assists.
Hargett and Doug Andrews each had a goal and an assist, while Jake Schlacht and Branden Morganroth scored once.
In net, Devin Williams earned the victory with a 22-save outing.
“We’ll take the two wins, but it was a difficult weekend to implement our systems by playing a lot on special teams,” said Cirone. “Battle Creek is struggling, but they’re rebuilding and (Jr. Revolution coach) Richard Keyes is doing it the right way. I rolled four lines and all four lines got significant ice. All in all, I think it was a positive weekend.”
The Jets play on the road in Toledo this Saturday night and then at Flint on Sunday afternoon.
“This won’t be an easy weekend,” Cirone added. “Toledo and Flint are two tough teams and they’ll both be ready.”
Second-year defenseman Ian Costello (Lansing, Mich.) was released late last week by the Jets and in doing so, Cirone didn’t mince words in explaining the reason for doing so.
“He quit,” said Cirone. “He came in and quit. I understand why, but do I condone it? No. Am I disappointed? Yes. We went out of our way last season to help this kid out and then this happens.”
Costello was held without a point in four games this season.
Kelley was also returned by the NAHL’s Port Huron Fighting Falcons after serving as the team’s backup last Saturday night.
“Dillon wasn’t playing for us Saturday and (Port Huron coach) Bill Warren called and said they needed a backup because one of their guys was suspended, so Dillon went and sat the bench for them,” explained Cirone. “It was by no means a promotion, but it was good for him to see a game at the NAHL level.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Todd Knaus, a forward who played 16 games for the Jets during the 2009-10 season, is starting his freshman year at Finlandia University, a Division III school in Hancock, Mich.
With the Lions, Knaus is reunited with Vinnie Pietrangelo, a former Jets’ teammate. Both are also Traverse City natives.
Knaus scored three goals with two assists during his stint in Waterford.
Photo – Andy Grossman/Detailed Images