Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tennyson Chevrolet taking on Irish look

AZ Sports owners Keith Lang and John Cruse announced today that at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, the Tennyson Chevrolet Junior Hockey Club will be renamed the Detroit Fighting Irish.

This name will represent the proud heritage of Lang and Cruse.

The Fighting Irish mascot, "Duck," is named in honor of the late Dick Lang, a true "smiling Irishman."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hounds open MWJHL playoffs March 22

The Hartland Hounds are on a mission.

After a 47-0-1-0 regular season in the Midwest Junior Hockey League with the lone blemish an overtime loss to the Michigan Ice Dogs, most are looking at the Hounds as a shoo-in to win the inaugural Veteran’s Memorial Cup as postseason champs.

Not so fast, say a couple players.

“It’s great winning 47 out of 48 games, but playoffs is a different season,” said Hartland captain Jake Henrikson. “If we play our game, I think we will do just fine.”

“Winning almost every game in regular season gives you a good vibe throughout the year, but that means absolutely nothing now,” added forward Jared Vincek. “We're 0-0, but if we play each game the right way and one at a time, then it'll be smooth sailing.”

And while most point to the team’s top scorers, goaltender Andrew Brownlee in net or P.J. Krystyniak on defense as key reasons the Hounds had a historical season, forward Thomas Kerr said it wasn’t any type of statistic that helped with success in Hartland.

“Winning 47 of 48 games certainly gave us confidence, but I think that one loss might seem devastating, it was actually much-needed in preparing us for the playoffs,” said Kerr. “I think the guys have a done a good job, but we haven’t won anything yet and this is where the hard work begins.

“We've had a lot of great highlights through the season, almost too many to pick from, but I would have to say the Bloomington road trip earlier in the season brought a lot of the guys together and we played good hockey from that point forward.”

Finlandia University, an NCAA Division III school in Hancock, Mich., also took note of the Hounds and signed Henrikson, Brownlee, Kerr and forward Cam Miglia for this coming fall.

Expect more college and higher-level junior commitments as well in the coming weeks.

That said, Hartland is poised and focused on bringing some hardware to the city with an eye on playing for the AAU/UHU national championship the first week in April in Las Vegas.

”For the Bloomington series, we’re preparing for that right now and I think it’s going very well,” said Kerr. “We just have to come out intense and pumped up and playing our game and we will have no problems ending out the series early and focusing on the finals and nationals.”

The Hounds and Bloomington play a best-of-three opening-round series March 22-24 (Friday-Sunday) at the Kensington Valley Ice House in Brighton. Game times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 1 p.m. start time for Sunday’s game, if needed.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cirone reflects on Jets' '12-13 season

Just because the Metro Jets didn’t qualify for the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs doesn’t mean all was lost this season at Lakeland Arena.

After all, one more win and the Jets would have been a .500 team. And a few less injuries and perhaps the Jets would be preparing for the opening round of the postseason.

“We let too many points slip away early in the season and it cost us at the end,” said third-year Jets’ coach Jason Cirone. “Going into the season, we had three guys coming back, made some trades in the summer, had a good draft and signed some free agents after some of the guys we tendered didn’t show up. Once the season started, we were very inconsistent and had to deal with so many major injuries. I don’t think I have ever dealt with as many injuries this season as I have in all my years of coaching combined.

 “At one point in the season, we only dressed 16 players and called up some Midget Major players to fill in. When that happens, you struggle because there is no chemistry with guys in and out of the lineup. Last year, we had that chemistry because we didn’t have any major injuries.”

Finishing 22-23-3-0 on the year, including a thrilling 4-3 win last Sunday over the East Division champion Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks at Lakeland Arena to conclude the regular season, the Jets had a shot to make the NA3HL postseason with less than a week left in the season, but a loss in Flint on March 5 shut those hopes down.

Cirone said that while the players were obviously disappointed, they still played out the last two games of the year last weekend against Cleveland.

“The day after the Flint game at practice, I could tell the guys were down,” said Cirone. “Then we play Cleveland Saturday and lose 9-2 in what essentially was a throw-away game, but then we come out and win on Sunday in a game that I think really showed what type of team we had this year. There was no quit in any of these kids and I’m proud of the way they got through the season.”

Playing with just two 20-year-olds this season in captain Matt Stirling and alternate captain Doug Andrews, replacing that pair will be a chore this offseason.

“Matt’s been here for three years and I was just saying the other day how hard it will be to make out the lineup card next season and not write his name on it,” Cirone said. “He and Dougie put up some great numbers this year and I would expect to see them both playing college hockey somewhere next season. We had just the two ‘92s and some teams had upwards of 10. We had a very young team this year.”

“There are tons of memories I will take from my time with the Jets,” added Stirling. “I think of at least two dozen right away that I will never forget like fights, road trips, coaches, teammates, goals, things like that. Some standouts in general are the times spent with the guys in the locker room and on the road, the lessons learned from Jason along with others over the years and the things I have learned about the game along the way.

“I wouldn’t trade those for anything else.”

Cirone is also counting on losing other players to the North American Hockey League, but in the business of developing players for that next level, that’s perfectly acceptable to Cirone.

Andrew Palushaj has played in the NAHL and I see no reason if he gets healthy that he can play there again,” said Cirone. “Also guys like Alex Holm, Mike Gambino and Myles Burrough, who I think could be a fifth or sixth defenseman in the NAHL, should get a shot and Kyle Shreve has a good chance after he tendered with Springfield.

“That being said, we want to win next year. You never know who’s coming back next year and a lot of these kids think they’re ready for the NAHL, but in reality, they’re not. (Jets’ assistant coach) Randy Wilson has done a great job all season tracking kids we like and might look at drafting (on June 4 at the NA3HL Entry Draft). We should have a good draft again with two first-round picks, one second, one third and two fifth-round picks.

“I’m looking forward to the draft and to next season. Like I said, we want to win.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Firehawks good choice for Yanks, Canucks

When Ryan Marshall and Matt Majic looked at their junior hockey options for the 2012-13 season, they each had choices to make.

In the end, only one team made the most sense – the Soo Firehawks of the new Midwest Junior Hockey League.

Located in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the Firehawks are playoff-bound after recently reeling off a 17-game winning streak. The team regularly plays to crowds of 200-300 most weekends at the Big Bear Arena and has a solid mix of players from the United States and Canada.

In Marshall’s case, suiting up for the Firehawks just felt right for the native of St. Ignace, Mich.

“We chose the Firehawks because we knew that it would be the best fit for Ryan,” said Wade Marshall, Ryan’s father. “We have played for the same coaches for the last four years and we knew Ryan would be able to fit in right away. Sault Ste. Marie has been a great place to watch Ryan play at this year. The Firehawks have great fans that are very supportive of the team and we have a great turnout at every home game.

“There is a very rich history with the sport of hockey is this city and it is shown everywhere you go in the city.”

Majic agrees with his teammate.

“The fans have been great and they really know their hockey and understand the game and support the team very well,” the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native said. “As well, the majority of players have played locally, so they know most of us from both sides of the border and cheer us on. Hockey is the top game in town.

“Living in Soo, Ont., a short two-mile drive across the border to the rink in Michigan, I can still live at home, enjoy the support of my family and attend school full time in the fire science program at Lake Superior State University. The team is very well run, the facilities great and the level of hockey in the MWJHL is impressive. Myself, as well as the other Canadians on the team, have been accepted and welcomed as part of the team.”

Majic is joined by countrymen Brandon Hansen (Sault Ste. Marie), Alex Drulia (Fort Erie), Cody Anderson (Sault Ste. Marie), Robby Boissoneau (Sault Ste. Marie) on the Firehawks’ roster.

Drulia’s uncle is former minor pro player Stan Drulia, who played 126 NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning and also won an IHL Turner Cup in 1997 as captain of the Detroit Vipers. He has coached at the minor-league level since 2002 and is currently an assistant coach with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

“I chose the Firehawks because I was at an NAHL camp and they invited me to tryouts and when I got up here, I just didn't want to leave because of the great owners and coaching staff that we have,” Alex Drulia said. “This season has helped me out so much because coming here as 17-year-old, I get lots of ice and the coaches rely on my in those situations when we need to put a goal in to tie the game or to win it. When you’re young, you need lots of ice and the more ice you get, the better you'll get as a player.

“With the mix of Canadians and Americans, it has really gone well. I mean, you'll always have those jokes between the two, but our team has really jelled well and I'm really glad I chose the Firehawks this season.”

Hansen, one of the top goalies in the MWJHL this year, is on the same page.

“Choosing to play for the Firehawks this year happened out of luck,” Hansen admitted. “I didn't find out about the team until about three days before the main camp. I got a hold of coach Joe Esson and he gave me the opportunity to come try out not knowing anything about me or seeing me play and I thank him for that or else I would be playing in the local men's league. This season has been great and has helped me improve and develop more as a player and an individual. Having practice everyday gives the team and players the opportunity to improve all the time if you work hard at it.

“For bonding it has been easy. I see these guys everyday and sometimes more than I see my parents, which makes every one of them family to me. As for bonding off the ice, we manage to always stay in contact which each other. I couldn't have asked for a better team, staff and owners and this season has by far been my favorite.”

Still, at the end of the day, citizenship matters little to Majic when suiting up to play hockey.

“Matthew was looking to continue playing hockey and had made the Midget AAA Soo Indians, but they had folded and he wasn't ready to hang up his skates - the competitive fire was still alive,” said Rob Majic, Matt’s father. “We had always told him to play as long as he could at the highest level he could. The coaches from the Indians had forwarded his name to the Firehawks. He went out and enjoyed the caliber of hockey and the team and made the team shortly before the beginning of their season. We talked to the coaches to ensure that the schedule and time commitment was acceptable with his full-time school schedule and that the team philosophy was consistent with ours.

“In the end, it was Matt’s decision and we have been very impressed with the organization and very happy with his choice.”

Marshall said that while the winning has helped with team camaraderie, being in a solid organization with teammates who will be friends for life has also made this year very enjoyable, both on and off the ice.

“This is a really competitive league and there are so many skilled players here,” said Marshall. “A lot of the guys here will get an opportunity to move on next year. It’s a great feeling to me knowing that we’re part of a league that is doing so much to develop its players and push them to the next level.

“I’m definitely happy I chose to play here.”

Marshall has had college offers from the University of Michigan-Dearborn (ACHA Division I) and Calvin College (ACHA D-III), but is leaning towards playing another year of juniors in the 2013-14 season.

“The league has provided great exposure for Ryan,” said Wade Marshall. “Ryan's long-term goals in hockey are to play at the highest level that he possible can. We as a family feel that he has what it takes to play at a very high level of hockey. We feel that Ryan has been taking the right steps in his hockey career to make this happen.”

Majic also has aspirations to ascend the hockey ladder, but for the time being, winning an MWJHL title is the top priority on his plate.

“I would like to continue to play hockey as long as I can at the highest level - I just want to continue to live the dream,” said Majic. “If I can continue to play hockey at a university while continuing my education sometime in the future, that would be great, but right now, the Firehawks are a great fit.”

“He wants to keep playing hockey while getting a solid education,” added Rob Majic. “If hockey presents other opportunities down the road, I'm sure he would be interested. However, the Firehawks and the MWJHL have been a great experience and very rewarding.”

In just its first year of existence, the MWJHL has already seen four players from the regular-season champion Hartland Hounds commit to NCAA D-III Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich. Expect more to be announced across the league in the coming weeks, perhaps even some from the Firehawks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Metro's Bessey, Hepler finish steady

Aaron Bessey and Brad Hepler both joined the Metro Jets midway through this season, but both came to Waterford under much different circumstances.

Bessey was playing midget hockey in Omaha, Neb., and Hepler was a rookie with the NA3HL’s Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks starting the season.

At the NA3HL Showcase in December in Blaine, Minn., Bessey was approached by the Jets’ brass to skate a few games on their depleted blue line and then in January, Hepler was acquired from Cleveland for veteran forward Jeff Monfils.

Both acquisitions paid immediate dividends.

Bessey, just 16, was only expected to play a handful of games, but stayed the rest of the season in Waterford. Hepler, a forward by trade, wound up playing both forward and defense for the Jets.

“Prior to the trade, I felt like the season was going in the right direction,” said Hepler, an 18-year-old Chelsea native (pictured). “I was told that I would be given more ice time, so I can't complain, and I felt like being closer to home was going to be better. Being away was also nice, though. My impressions of the Jets were that they were a good, physical team that works hard. My time with Metro has been great, starting with the guys making it comfortable for me on and off the ice.”

When Bessey joined the team, he immediately became one of the youngest players in the league.

“When I joined the NA3HL, I saw the game was a lot faster-paced and everything you did had to be quicker and react faster to the play,” said Bessey, a Howell native. “My experience makes me want to potentially play in the NAHL next year and to make it as far as I can in the long run.”

Hepler’s future goals mirror those of Bessey.

“My short-term goal playing hockey would to be playing in the NAHL by the end of my junior career,” explained Hepler. “My long-term goal is to play in the NHL.”

And with the heartbreaking loss last Tuesday night in Flint that mathematically eliminated the Jets from the playoffs, both Bessey and Hepler said everyone on the team played out the rest of the year as if the playoffs were still an option.

“I think the mood with the team was still great because even though we're out of playoffs, I think we really pushed to win the rest of the season as if we still were competing for playoffs,” Bessey said.

The Jets finished the season splitting with the Jr. Lumberjacks at Lakeland Arena last Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Waterford native and Cleveland rookie Scott Cuthrell scored five goals and added an assist as the Jr. Lumberjacks defeated the Jets 9-2 Saturday night.

Doug Andrews and Mike Lawrence scored for the Jets, while Trevor Kalinowski made 23 saves between the pipes.

The Jets then ended their 2012-13 season with a thrilling 4-3 win over the Jr. Lumberjacks on Sunday.

T.J. Krajewski led the way for the Jets (22-23-3-0) with a goal and two assists and Kalinowski made 32 saves in goal.

"I'm proud of the way the kids played today," said Jets' coach Jason Cirone. "They really put together a great effort and I'm proud of them."

Brian Ziola, Mike Gambino and Chris Mayer also scored, while Andrews and captain Matt Stirling each had an assist in their final junior hockey games.

For Cleveland, Dominic Valencia scored twice and goalie Nick Danczak made 12 saves.

After the game, instead of both teams heading to their respective locker rooms, they gathered at center ice for a post-game handshake.

Next up for the Jets are weekly conditioning skates that will start shortly at Lakeland Arena and then the NA3HL Entry Draft on June 11.

Check back later this week to for a comprehensive season recap. 


Steven Oleksy, who played for the Jets from 2003-05, made his NHL debut March 5 for the Washington Capitals with an assist against the Boston Bruins in a 4-3 overtime win and then tallied his first NHL goal Sunday afternoon versus the New York Rangers in a 4-1 loss.

Oleksy started the year with the AHL’s Hershey Bears before getting the call from Washington.

The 26-year-old from Chesterfield played for the NAHL’s Traverse City North Stars, captaining the team in 2005-06, and then skated three years at NCAA Division I Lake Superior State from 2006-09 and embarking on a pro career that has seen him play in the IHL, ECHL and AHL.

Oleksy, affectionately known as “Bink,” is the first Jets’ alumnus in the program’s 24-year history to skate in the NHL.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Warriors' Erkkila commits to Wildcats

The Michigan Warriors have announced that forward Levi Erkkila has verbally committed to Northern Michigan University.

The Calumet native is in his first season playing for the Warriors and has four goals and five assists for nine points in 36 games this year.

"I am excited to see the continued development of our players," Warriors' coach Moe Mantha said. "The Warriors organization is extremely pleased for Levi. This is an excellent opportunity for him to continue his hockey career and education."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lawrence providing major spark for Jets

Michael Lawrence has been all over the map over the last year or so, but is happy to have found a home with the Metro Jets this year.

Last season, Lawrence skated for the West Michigan Hounds AAA and in the North American Hockey League for a bit with the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings.

This year, he started out with the Granite City (Minn.) Lumberjacks, the team that tabbed him in the tenth round of last summer’s North American 3 Hockey League draft. With the Lumberjacks, Lawrence tallied two goals and six points in 13 games, but wanted a bigger role.

On Nov. 30 while both teams were at the first league showcase in Blaine, Minn., Lawrence was traded to the Jets and since the deal, has 17 points in 24 games in a Jets’ uniform.

“I requested a trade here because I felt I wasn't getting the playing time I deserved in Granite City,” said Lawrence, a 20-year-old from Mattawan. “With all the returners they had from winning a national championship last season, I kind of got lost in the mix of players. I came into the league kind of blind and not really knowing what to expect, but I feel I adapted pretty quickly, which was good.”

Lawrence said he serves a variety of roles with the Jets, a team scratching and clawing to earn a playoff berth.

”My role is to bring a physical presence on the ice and to answer the bell when called upon, but who doesn't like to score?” quipped Lawrence. “On this team, the mood changes depending on the day. Some days, we have a lot of life, but the next, we come out with no energy or drive. All in all, though, the mood is always good. Obviously, the captains like Matt Stirling, Dougie Andrews and I are called upon the most to get the boys going, but we have a group of leaders including Andrew Palushaj, Hargs (Travis Hargett) and Zack MacKay who aren’t afraid to let everyone know what's on their mind.

”As far as I'm concerned, there's still a lot of season left. We just need to grip down and play hockey like we can. We aren’t out of the playoffs just yet. If that day comes where we are officially out of the playoffs, that doesn't mean the season is over. We will still be playing for our pride.”

Playing for the love of the game is something Lawrence learned at a young age from his father, Mark Lawrence, who logged 142 NHL games with the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders and also played several years in the minors after starting in the Ontario Hockey League and playing at one time for the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, now known as the Plymouth Whalers.

“I give him my dad the credit to where I am today,” said Lawrence. “He was still playing when I was growing up playing, so it was always easy to talk to him about the game. Then him coaching me my whole life, he was able to mold me into the player I am today. I just wish I had the scoring touch like him, though.”

Next season, Lawrence knows the options should be aplenty, but wants to look at each and every one of them with a fine-tooth comb.

”I have a great offer to play for Aquinas University, but also I still have another year of junior eligibility left, so I'm really up in the air right now,” Lawrence said. “I just want to take things day by day.”


Forward Josh Beleski, who made his return to the Jets just prior to the NA3HL trade deadline and roster freeze two weeks ago, was originally the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010.


Jack McCoy played with the Jets during the team’s early years and has worked his way up to be a linesman at the American Hockey League level.

McCoy, a Livonia native who played college hockey at Oswego State in the SUNYAC, has also worked as an on-ice official in the OHL, ECHL, International Hockey League and United Hockey League.