FRASER, Mich. – The past two years, Michael Tratar lived away from home to play junior hockey.
This season, he’s back home and having arguably his most productive season to date.
Tratar, a 20-year-old from Madison Heights, Mich., has compiled 11 goals and 31 points in 22 games with the Metro Jets this season after posting 61 points and leading the West Michigan Wolves in scoring a year ago.
He’s doing the same for the Jets this year and is also among the NA3HL’s top 20 scorers.
“When I heard the Jets were moving from Waterford to Fraser, I thought to myself that maybe staying home for my last year of juniors would be an easier setting to play better and hopefully, play college hockey the following year,” explained Tratar. “So I called the new head coach, Marc Lawrence, and asked if I could get traded to the Jets. It didn't happen right away, but about 2-3 weeks before the season started, I got a call from Marc and he told me I had been officially traded to the Metro Jets.”
For the majority of the season, Tratar has played on a forward line with Kevin Shand and Mathias Tellstrom, a line that Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville said has been “very dynamic” this season.
“When we were approached by West Michigan about 'Trats' being available, we made it our priority to make a deal happen,” Quenneville said. “In watching him last year and working with him this year, his game doesn't just stop with his top-notch skill set. He is arguably one of the smartest hockey players at this level. He works hard every shift and is the perfect representation of an on-ice leader. His line has been consistent for our club and the chemistry between the three was evident from the start.”
Tratar added that while he’s getting the points, he’s quick to credit his linemates.
“I’m doing whatever I can to get a win for the team, but I couldn't have done what I have so far without the help of Shand and Mathias and of course, the rest of the team backing me up,” Tratar said. “They are a great group of guys and I love coming to the rink with them every day, but there is always room for improvement, so I have to just keep trying to get better and better every day.”
Prior to playing junior hockey Tratar played house and travel hockey growing up. Freshman and sophomore year of high school, he played house hockey in Dearborn and then for his junior year, travel hockey for Belle Tire before playing travel hockey for St. Clair Shores his senior year.
“For the most part growing up, my dad, Mick, was my coach and I wouldn't have had it any other way,” explained Tratar. “He was a great player growing up watching him and an even better coach. He really helped me develop and be prepared for junior hockey. Without him, I wouldn't be playing the game I love right now.”
Starting strong is one thing, but Tratar wants to finish the second half on a high note as well.
“As a ’95, it is very important to have my best year out of the last two years,” Tratar said. “This is the year I have college scouts watching me to see how I play and how I've developed. Growing up, I've been more of an offensive-minded player, but I have to thank my coach from last year, Marc Fakler, and my head coach this year, Justin Quenneville, for showing me the importance of defensive hockey as well. I'm still more offensive-minded, but I'm much more defensive than I ever was and I believe that will help with the colleges scouting me.
“I just have to keep producing and helping the team win no matter what.”
So far this season, the Jets and Wolves, by virtue of playing in the East Division together, have played against each other seven times, with the Jets winning six.
“Playing West Michigan the first time this year was something I've never experienced before – seeing old teammates that I had built relationships with this past year in different jerseys was quite strange,” said Tratar. “It's something you definitely have to get used to while moving up in hockey, but I'm still and always will be friends with them off the ice, but on the ice is a different story. We've lost to them once this year (5-4 in overtime on Oct. 24) and I'm not gonna lie, that was by far the worst loss to me all year. Being my old team, I don't want to lose to them at all and definitely don't want to feel again what I did when we lost, so I'm gonna do anything I can to beat them.”
Metro and West Michigan next play Wednesday, Jan. 13 in Battle Creek.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Jacob Gwillim turned a negative into a positive Saturday night, stopping all 34 shots he faced as the Jets defeated West Michigan 5-0 at Fraser Hockeyland.
Gwillim, a 2014 Jets' draft pick, was released by the NAHL's Johnstown Tomahawks early last week and quickly found a home with the Jets.
"I felt really good – this was my first start in a few weeks and I got out there, got my feet wet and the boys kept the shots to the outside," said Gwillim, an 18-year-old from Swartz Creek, Mich. "They made it a pretty easy night for me."
Devin Kelly registered a goal and an assist for Metro, while Jacob Drinkard, Chase Sereno, David Chavis II and Tratar also scored.
Pearce Vance chipped in with two assists for the Jets, who move to 17-3-2 on the season, still in first place of the NA3HL's East Division.
Quenneville said that even though his team looked "a little rusty," he'll take the two points.
"We had a couple turnovers and a couple bad decisions here and there, but we controlled what we needed to when we needed to," said Quenneville. "Overall, not our best game, but we'll take the win and work on some stuff this week."
West Michigan goalie Joe Licata made 37 saves in suffering the loss.
Next up for the Jets is a road game in Wooster against the Oilers next Saturday night at 7:45 p.m. before coming home for a 12:30 p.m. game the following afternoon against the Toledo Cherokee.
Both games will be available on www.fasthockey.com.
Tickets for any upcoming home game are available for $2 from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday night at the Fraser Hockeyland ticket office.
For more ticket information, contact Nancy Krajewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gwillim is the fifth draft pick from the Jets’ 2014 class to suit up for the team, joining defensemen Tyler Layle and Bruiser Freatman (both in 2014-15) and current second-year forwards Graham Day and Jason Newel.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Alex Nedeljkovic, now in his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League, was traded Monday from the Flint Firebirds to the Niagara IceDogs.
He is currently 9-7-2 with a 3.21 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Nedeljkovic 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 saw action in three games with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.