Friday, September 18, 2009

Heath playing well early for Metro

Last season, it was no secret that goaltending wasn’t at the level it needed to be for the Metro Jets to make an impact in the Central States Hockey League.

This season, the team brass went out and made sure goaltending would be an asset this season and so far, even though Metro is still winless, the goalies cannot be faulted.

R.J. Heath and Ian Mercer make up the combo in net for the Jets this season and are the main reason for keeping the team in all three games they’ve played so far.

Heath, in particular, has been stellar and has the praise of the coaching staff.

“Heater's a goalie who's capable of carrying a team,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “From the day he got here, he's made a difference in how our team plays. Our guys are very comfortable with him between the pipes and most times, R.J.'s going to make the big save when called upon. Through our first couple exhibition games and our first couple regular season games, he's yet to give up a bad goal.”

This time last year, Heath, a Holly native, was the No. 3 goalie with the Alexandria Blizzard of the North American Hockey League and wound up the year back in Michigan with the Motor City Machine, but didn’t see any game action with either club.

“Our scout, Tim Ross, had been watching R.J. play for a year or two before this one and Tim had always liked him,” said Skop. “R.J. started the past couple years up in the NAHL, and because of a few injury problems, never really got a chance. This year, he was looking for a place where he could play. He wanted a chance to compete and play, and he's getting that here. It works out well for him because he's a local guy, and he can take care of some school while he's playing, too.”

Skop added that in addition to his skill, Heath comes with a bit more of the intangibles.

“He's a big guy who doesn't give you much to look at when you're shooting,” Skop said. “He fills up a lot of the net. The best thing about Heater is he's really quick for his size. I don't think there are too many guys at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds that can move the way he does.”

Heath will also serve as a mentor to Mercer (Rochester Hills), two years his junior, and once the Jets team as a whole gets untracked, goaltending will be an even bigger key to any success Metro will have this year.


The Jets opened their 21st season in the CSHL last weekend at home and suffered a pair of defeats to the St. Louis Jr. Blues.

Saturday night, Josh Magnan (Waterford), Jonathon Elliott (Bloomfield Hills), Will Saley (Milford) and Vinnie Pietrangelo (Traverse City) scored in the 8-4 loss, while Heath stopped 31 shots.

Then on Sunday afternoon, Magnan and Jonathan Wickersham (Macomb) were the goal scorers in a 4-2 loss that saw Mercer make 36 saves.

"On Saturday night, if not for a six-minute stretch in the second period, that's a one-goal game," Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. "Then Sunday, we took a three-minute stretch off in the third period and it cost us the game.”

Veteran defenseman Brett Grech (Hartland) had an assist in each game for Metro, who was then shutout Wednesday night in Flint, 6-0. Heath and Mercer combined for a 38-save outing.

Afterwards, Skop showed his emotions.

"(Wednesday) night was a setback I'm not happy about," said Skop. "We weren't ready to play. Period. The easiest thing to do in hockey is work hard and we didn't do that. No one did that. We weren't physical and we weren't intense. We brought nothing. If not for Heath and Mercer, it could easily have been a 12-0 game.

"This is surprising because our guys have done a good job of bringing it every day. I'm sure they'll get back to that."

Tomorrow night, the Jets play an exhibition game against Adrian College’s ACHA Division I team before jumping back into CSHL play next weekend in Pittsburgh.


Captains have yet to be named this season … Two Jets from last season – goaltender Nick Ceccolini (Grand Rapids) and forward Paul Elezaj (Motor City) – have landed with new CSHL teams this year … This season is the 20th for the Jets at Lakeland Arena. Their first year’s home games were played at Inkster Ice Arena.


Austin Brown, a defenseman who played for the Jets during the 2005-2006 season, is entering his sophomore season at St. Scholastica College, a Division III school located in Duluth, Minn.

Brown, a 22-year-old from Bloomfield Township, tallied five assists in 23 games last season with the Saints.

Photo by Andy Grossman

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