The players and coaching staff are hoping the attitude and renewed confidence will translate to more wins and improved morale around Lakeland Arena.
Defensemen Brett Grech (pictured), starting his fourth season with Metro, Steve Lockwood and Tyler Schofield are back along with forwards Will Saley and Justin Vinson, and those five players should form a solid leadership group to mentor the younger players.
That said, the Jets’ brass is banking on its goalie tandem of rookies R.J. Heath and Ian Mercer to be the backbone to any improvement.
“From what I can see, our goaltending duo of Heath and Mercer should help out the cause immensely,” said Jets GM Butch Wolfe. “The players returning should be better with a year under their belts. Team chemistry is good and that should help lead to our anticipated success this season.”
“Getting an NAHL-caliber goaltender in Heath and a quality young goaltender with Mercer will be huge to our success this season,” added Metro head coach Jamie Hayden. “Both guys will go out game in and game out and give a chance to win, as well as win us a few games by themselves. That’s something we haven’t had since (Alex) Pikunas left (after the ’07-08 season). After the disappointing season last year, we knew we weren't going to bring many players back, but the guys we did bring back are working hard and are positive role models for all the new players.”
New in town are forwards Michael Denston, Jonathon Elliott, Mike Herter, Tim Hooker, Chris Kienzle, Josh Magnan, Anthony Marrocco, David Merkle, Matt Moeller, Jesse Peterson, Joe Rutkowski, Shane Wheatley and Jonathan Wickersham and defensemen Mike Corder, Dylan Mantay, Vinnie Pietrangelo, Steve Vandenberghe and Matt Zacharias.
Forwards Matt McCaig and captain Adam Novack will be hard to replace, but right now, it looks as though the new crop of Jets will help the team in climbing the Central States Hockey League standings right off the bat.
“We are ahead of last year at this point and we are stronger in all three positions - goaltending, defense and forwards,” Hayden said. “I think on defense we are much more mobile and solid - really nothing flashy back there. Grech will be the leader back there again, but with a solid group around him, I expect him to have a much better season with him not having to play 30-40 minutes a night like last year. The forwards have seemed to be grasping the defensive system very quickly and that has to be our main focus, keeping the puck out of our net this year. I think with Vinson and Saley back from last year and the addition of guys like Merkle, Magnan and Elliott, we will have enough offense to win hockey games and a pretty good group of young talent to fill out the roster led by role player like Moeller, Wickersham and Herter.
“I fully expect us to be in every game this year.”
Wolfe also said that although he’s not sure how the Jets will match-up with the other dozen teams in the CSHL, their opponents could count on every game being intense and using the past as a building block.”What I do know is the staff took the previous two seasons to heart and did a very good job in the identification and recruiting of talent, so special kudos to (assistant coach) Ryan (Skop) and (head scout) Tim (Ross),” said Wolfe. “As far as expectations go, I feel we should be much more competitive and earn a playoff berth.”
The Jets host the St. Louis Jr. Blues for a pair this weekend at home. Game time is 7:50 p.m. Saturday night and 1:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon.