WATERFORD, Mich. – When the Flint Jr. Generals’ franchise was sold and relocated over the summer to La Crosse, Wis., Zach Koonce had a decision to make.
Would he move to La Crosse or seek a trade to a North American 3 Hockey League team closer to home?
Koonce wound up being traded to the Metro Jets late in the summer and has played well in the first month of his last season of junior hockey eligibility.
“I think I’m finally getting into my groove and playing to the best of my ability these past few games,” said Koonce, a 20-year-old forward from Lake Orion, Mich. “Hopefully, I can keep it rolling so I can help my team win night in and night out. I think we have good chemistry thus far this season and chemistry is important to a team because if you don’t play well together, you won’t win.”
Entering this weekend’s games, Koonce leads the Jets in scoring with six goals and four assists for 10 points in nine games. Last year in Flint, he posted 20 goals and 35 points in 44 games.
Metro head coach Justin Quenneville feels Koonce is emerging as the catalyst for the team’s offense.
“Addressing our need for offense was a big focus this past offseason, and having the opportunity to acquire a veteran player such as Koonce added an immediate threat up front,” said Quenneville. “His speed and tenacity on the puck fits our style of play perfectly.”
Prior to joining the Jets, Koonce knew that the team was top-notch on and off the ice and once he made the decision to play in Waterford, Koonce said he had no regrets.
“I always knew they had a pretty good organization,” Koonce said. “Last year when we (Flint) played them, we would always play close games. The Jets have always been very competitive.”
“Koonce will be key to this teams’ success and counted on for a consistent offensive output from our forwards,” added Quenneville. “Our younger guys feed off our veteran players and Koonce will be weighed on for his junior experience.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Jets extended their winning streak to four games with a two-game sweep over the Southern Tier Xpress last weekend at Lakeland Arena. Both games ended in 6-3 finals for Metro.
“By far our strongest weekend of hockey and most consistent play,” said Quenneville. “Our special teams play was strong and needed to be this past weekend. We still have better hockey to be played and we now move forward this week preparing for Cleveland and Pittsburgh.”
Last Saturday night, Kevin Shand went for a goal and two assists, while Devin Kelly and Jason Newel chipped in with a goal and an assist apiece. David Chavis, Cody Jones and Jacob Rutkoske scored single goals and Andrew Sawyer picked up a pair of assists as goaltender Jake Stephan made 23 saves for the win between the pipes.
Sunday afternoon saw Koonce pot two goals and add an assist with Cooper McLean, Max Vance and Kyle Shreve all contribute a goal and an assist. Shand posted two assists and Matt Dempsey scored the other goal to back Kam Limburg’s 30 saves in goal.
This weekend, the Jets play in Cleveland on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. and then in Pittsburgh Sunday at 11:40 a.m.
Both games will be available on www.fasthockey.com.
Shand, who played the last two weekends with the Jets, was called up this week to the North American Hockey League’s Springfield Jr. Blues, where he played the bulk of the season in 2013-14.
“Kevin played some good hockey of late and this is the right time for him to move up,” Quenneville said. “His offense will be missed in Metro, but at the end of the day, it’s about moving players up and he should be playing in the NAHL.”
In four games with Metro, Shand tallied five goals and two assists with a plus-1 rating.
Chavis has been named team captain for the 2014-15 season with McLean and Dempsey serving as alternate captains. The announcement was made prior to last weekend’s games with Southern Tier.
“We wanted to get a couple games under our belts before we determined the identity of our leadership within the team,” explained Quenneville. “We feel that our core group of leaders of late have really stepped up to the plate with their play more than words. In order to be a winning program, you need the right foundation of leadership and thus far, those three have answered the bell. Being a leader isn’t a sometimes thing, it’s an everyday thing, so this is a great opportunity for those three.”
Defenseman Aaron Bessey, who had not played yet this season, was released Wednesday.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Brad Hepler, a 20-year-old Chelsea, Mich., native who played both forward and defense for the Jets the last two years, is now a freshman defenseman at ACHA Division I Midland University in Fremont, Neb.
Midland is 3-4-0 to start their inaugural season and is coached by former Metro head coach Jason Cirone (2010-13).
This season, Hepler is among the team scoring leaders with three goals and 10 points in seven games.
Last year with the Jets, Hepler led the team with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) and played in all 48 regular-season games. In 2012-13, he registered seven goals and 12 points in 20 games after being acquired from Cleveland for forward Jeff Monfils.