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Trio of rookie blueliners turning heads, making strides on Jets' back end

By Matt Mackinder, 01/24/19, 10:00AM EST


FRASER, Mich. – Defense wins hockey games and three Metro Jets players have helped do just that this season.

A trio of rookie defensemen – Blake Sheridan, Parker Wolters and Christian Rawling – have all made significant contributions from the back end during the 2018-19 season.

Sheridan said he found the Jets last summer when looking for post-high school hockey options.

“The Jets became the top contender after going to a few of their games last season,” said Sheridan, an 18-year-old Waterford native. “After trying out for and making their spring team, I fell in love with the team and the atmosphere of playing with the Jets. 

“I feel the Jets provide a great coaching staff that is always willing to work one on one to help improve our game not only as a team but as an individual. There’s always ice time available to improve your particular skill set as well as a training facility, the MAT, which gives us the luxury of working out and bettering our bodies every day.”

Jets associate head coach Jamie Lovell says Sheridan is always looking to learn more, both on and off the ice.

“He’s been a sponge all season, on the ice and in the gym, and it has shown,” Lovell said. “There’s always going to be a learning curve making the jump from high school hockey to junior hockey, but Blake has slowly gained more and more confidence with every game. I think him knowing that when he makes a mistake he’s going right back out on the ice helps with that.  It’s been great to see his progression from September to playing a regular shift on the back end for the MJDP Team.”  

With the stretch drive approaching, Sheridan has several reachable goals in mind for the rest of the 2018-19 season and down the road.

“I hope to better myself in our defensive zone, making plays to help tilt the ice towards our opponents,” said Sheridan. “I would also like to score my first junior goal and assist my teammates moving into the playoffs. My long-term goal is to get better every day to hopefully play college hockey somewhere. Next year, I want to continue playing for the Jets, striving to be one of their top defensemen, as well as starting to take college classes to better prepare for the future.”

Wolters, a 17-year-old product of Marysville, is one of the younger players on the ice, but truth be told, he plays a mature game.

“He’s been a great addition to our program, and I think it’s been great for his development to be able to play a significant role in all situations, (power play, penalty kill, last minute),” Lovell said. “He makes a strong first pass and his skating ability allows him to defend the rush well. With his favorable age, Parker has plenty of years left to keep developing and take his game to another level for us here.”

Last summer, Wolters attended the MAT skates and came away impressed.

“I didn’t know that much about the Jets until I was told about their MAT skates in the summer,” said Wolters. “I really liked the way they ran the skates and the coaching they provided at them. From there, I attended their main camp and was offered a spot on the team. It doesn’t take much to get everyone to buy in as the Jets have a reputation for winning and advancing players to the next level. And they have a great coaching staff and gym and practice every morning.

“The rest of the season, I just hope to improve on my habits, especially the little things that sometimes go unnoticed that the coaches preach. I hope to get better and smarter as a hockey player and improve my decision making on the ice.”

In the future, Wolters has aspirations to stay on skates for as long as he can.

“As for long-term goals, I would like to get a college scholarship and take my hockey career as far as it takes me,” he said.

Rawling is a steady blueliner that has gradually improved this season for the Jets, a season he was admittedly leery to pursue at first.

“After years of playing travel hockey, I decided to make the transition to play high school hockey my junior and senior year at L’Anse Creuse North,” said Rawling, a 19-year-old Chesterfield native. “All throughout my high school hockey career my mentor, Andy Oleksy, former Metro Jet Steve Oleksy’s father, encouraged me to look into the Jets organization, but I was reluctant. Steve has been a role model of mine since my middle school years and he and his dad have always said very positive things about the Jets program and organization. My reluctance was solely based on pursuing academics more than hockey at that specific time in my life.  

“After a year of playing college club hockey (at Saginaw Valley State), I decided I wanted something more and took the advice of my mentor to pursue junior hockey. This past spring and summer, I was very adamant about getting to the junior level and establishing a spot on the Metro Jets team, so I decided to show face at the main camp in the summer. After discussing things over with Coach Q (Justin Quenneville) and Coach Jamie, I knew this was the best fit for me to further my hockey career while being very close to home.”

Quenneville noted that Rawling bought in to the Jets system right away and it has been paying dividends for him ever since.

“Christian approached us this past summer about the opportunity to come back to junior hockey,” Quenneville said. “He had one college season under his belt and was not satisfied.  With our platform here, he was able to go through the process, invest in himself and his development again. We have had success with players who opted to give themselves more collegiate opportunities and that goal is consistent for Christian. He is a poised defenseman that defends well inside the dots in particular.

“He has a positive attitude and brings a good energy to the rink every day.  It’s been fun working with someone that wants to better his game and since he has returned from his injury, he has contributed in several ways.” 

Rawling added that knowing the Jets won a national championship in 2018 makes him hungry to help the team repeat in 2019.

“My ultimate goal is to win a national championship and I truly believe this team is capable of doing just that,” Rawling said. “From a personal standpoint, I think I need to continue to simplify my game by making simple decisions on the ice and off ice by working on my explosiveness.  Furthermore, my goal is to make more of a contribution in all aspects of the game and, hopefully, bring back a national championship with my teammates.”

Setting goals has long been something Rawling has done during his playing days.

“I think setting goals for myself has been a key component to my life as a hockey player and an individual,” said Rawling. “My short-term goal is just to be the best possible teammate I can be and contribute more to the success of our team this year. Moreover, I think taking care of my body and remaining healthy is a really important goal of mine as well. My long-term goal is to go to NCAA Division III where I can further my hockey career and academic career in the medical field, possibly nursing.  

“I am confident that with the team and coaching staff that we have, I have an excellent chance to fulfill these goals.”

And taking that chance to play for the Jets is where it all started for Rawling.

“The Jets organization provides a multitude of opportunities for each player to succeed in their own way,” Rawling said. “The Jets organization provides an environment with a very knowledgeable coaching staff that is also very approachable, which I believe is extremely important for players wanting to invest in their careers. The organization also provides the MAT, which focuses on injury prevention and strength and conditioning. The atmosphere in the locker room is so positive and competitive, yet supportive as well, which makes it a fun environment to be around. The surmountable success that we’ve had this year and previous Jets teams have had in the past is all due to the hours that the coaches invest in us, the culture they have created and the support they show.

“Ultimately, I am so thankful to be a part of the Jets organization and cannot thank Coach Q, Coach Jamie and Coach Randy (Wilson) enough for giving me this wonderful opportunity.”