WATERFORD, Mich. – T.J. Krajewski has seen almost everything in his three seasons with the Metro Jets.
He came in to the North American 3 Hockey League as a raw 17-year-old back in 2012 and now, is a steady force as a top-four defenseman for the Jets.
Metro head coach Justin Quenneville has seen the improvement in Krajewski’s game since he came on early last season.
"T.J. has come a long way since last season when I joined the team,” said Quenneville. “He has committed himself off the ice to transform himself and brought his game to another level this season. He is a role player who works hard and buys in to the team. He is one of our leaders in the plus-minus category (plus-29) and has been consistent throughout the season.
“He loves the game, the workouts, the extra work needed to succeed and most of all, his teammates – and that's a win for any coach."
Krajewski, a 20-year-old from Macomb, Mich., posted 11 points as a rookie, 12 last year and with one weekend to go this season, has tallied two goals and 15 assists for 17 points through 38 games.
He said coming back to the Jets this season was an easy decision when he began to see the squad Quenneville was assembling.
“I had worked with ‘Q’ all summer and with no luck at the NAHL tryout camps, I came back because the coaching staff is great and I saw the potential of our team,” said Krajewski. “I can say at the beginning of the season, I thought we could have a shot at the Silver Cup and potentially, nationals.”
Since that first season at Lakeland Arena, Krajewski has improved in more than just stats.
“I have gotten faster, learned to make smarter decisions, and my foot work is way better now,” Krajewski explained. “I worked on my first three steps being a lot quicker and speed because speed kills and I am very grateful that ‘Q’ had helped me out with that.”
As Quenneville alluded to, Krajewski is the consummate team player. Krajewski feels the same way.
“Being with the boys, the wins, the losses, and everything in between is what makes this game fun,” said Krajewski. “I love the game and I have loved it since I started playing. Putting on skates and going out there is what makes it fun for me and I will never get tired of it.”
Sitting in a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Vengeance in the East Division with this weekend to decide the regular-season champion, Krajewski took time to reflect on how far the Jets have come this year and how they’ve emerged as one of the NA3HL’s top teams.
“I feel like our team this year is the best we’ve ever been,” Krajewski said. “We are strong up front, third in the league in scoring and there is no problem scoring this year from our forwards, that's for sure. In the defensive zone, we are really solid and have seven defenseman that can play with anyone on the ice we play against. Our goalies are solid, too, and both make the big saves when we need them.”
On the back end, Krajewski began the season on a pairing with Metro captain David Chavis II, but has since been paired with Devin Kelly, who actually began the season in his natural position as a forward.
“Chavis and I we really steady getting points and plusses and always covering for each other and I felt like we had some pretty good chemistry together,” said Krajewski. “Now, Kelly and I play together and we trust each other a lot and we know where we are going to be. Kelly has come a long way and he is a solid defenseman and I love playing with him. We do play well together and I told him when we first got partnered together that ‘I'm not going to let you be a minus’ and I have tried my best to not let that happen to him.”
With one season of junior hockey eligibility remaining after this season, Krajewski is looking farther ahead than that.
“The dream for every hockey player is to be paid for the something that we love to do,” Krajewski said. “The ice and cold air runs through our veins. The best advice I got was to play as long as you can and I intend to do that.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Last weekend, the Jets travelled to Jamestown, N.Y., for two games with the Southern Tier Xpress and came away with a weekend sweep, winning 5-4 Friday night and 4-0 on Saturday.
"As a coach, you constantly try to find ways to challenge your players and down the stretch, these guys have really impressed me with their consistent effort, execution and discipline,” Quenneville said. “Teams don't like the Jets too much, and we thrive off that hate. We work hard, play hard and look to outsmart our opponents every night. This past weekend was evidence of how committed these players are to finishing the job. I am proud of them and when we did face any adversity, we got a big goal or a big save to ensure the sweep on the road."
In the first game, the Jets erased a 3-1 deficit after one period to gain the two points. Ryan Bloom scored two goals, Jake Sealy added a goal and an assist and Jacob Drinkard and Alex Holm netted single goals. Jason Newel and Zach Koonce tallied two assists apiece and Kam Limburg made 30 saves on 31 shots after taking over for Jake Stephan at the start of the second period.
Saturday, Limburg stopped all 25 shots fired his way and Max Vance led the way offensively with a goal and two assists for Metro. Chavis, Bloom and Tyler Layle also scored in the victory.
Bloom now has six goals in five games since being assigned to the Jets from the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors.
This weekend, the Jets play a staggered home-and-home with the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks, starting with the regular-season home finale at Lakeland Arena Friday night at 8:50 p.m. before playing in Cleveland on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
The Jets (30-13-2) and Pittsburgh both have 62 points on the season and identical .689 winning percentages. Metro has two more wins than Pittsburgh, who plays Cincinnati at home this weekend.
"Given the strength of our division, of course it would come down to the last weekend to determine seeding,” said Quenneville. “Our guys are confident heading up against a good Cleveland squad, but we will need to play disciplined hockey to secure the first seed in the division. The guys know they have control of our destiny with two games left and it's up to them to finish strong heading into the playoffs."
“This weekend is huge because we need to win both games so that way we can secure home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs,” added Krajewski. “We are stellar at home (18-4-1), always playing our best games. We want to send a message the first game in each round that the Jets are the best team because ‘why not us?’ like 'Q' says.”
Four Jets – Vance, Matt Dempsey, Chavis and Sergey Golov – took part in the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament this past Monday and Tuesday at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Vance scored a goal in the two games, while Chavis had an assist. Both Dempsey and Golov were held scoreless.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Jesse Worrell, a forward that skated for the Jets in 2006-07 and led the team with 35 goals, is now playing for the Detroit Bordercats of the professional National Roller Hockey League that kicked off its inaugural season last weekend.
Worrell, a 27-year-old New Baltimore, Mich., native, also finished second in Jets’ scoring in ’06-07 to Nick Kenney’s 66 points.