Friday, November 27, 2009

Rutkowski out to motivate Jets

It’s not the size of the lion in the fight, but the size of the fight in the lion.

Such is the case with Metro Jets rookie forward Joe Rutkowski – all 5-feet-9 and 155 pounds of him.

Signed as a free agent out of Metro’s tryout camp at the end of last summer, Rutkowski has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets this season.

“Ruts is a guy who does all the little things for us – that's what makes him so effective,” said Metro coach Ryan Skop. “I think his biggest asset and value to us is that he works hard, he'll do whatever it takes to win, and he's a good competitor. On the bench or when he's on the ice, the guys on our bench take notice. They see Ruts finishing checks, getting pucks deep, blocking shots, doing the dirty work, and it motivates the rest of the guys to follow his lead.”

Rutkowski, an 18-year-old from St. Clair Shores, (not related former Jets forward Chad Rutkowski), has improved in huge strides since early September.

“The difference between now and season's start is that Joe has learned to push himself to get better,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “He’s a tenacious player and competes every night. Maybe not the most gifted player, but he uses everything he has.”

Small in stature, but big on heart, Rutkowski knew before the season started that playing for the Jets could help him develop more of his overall game to find a niche in the Central States Hockey League.

“I remember after the last skate on Saturday at main camp, Ruts sent me a text message and just wanted to let me know how badly he wanted to play for the Jets,” said Skop. “He was willing to do just about anything to get a chance. I let him know what we were looking for and he came out Sunday, flew around the ice and blasted guys all over. He's the type of guy who embodies the personality and character we want. He’s a competitor who wants to be here. I think it’s safe to say that it's worked out well for him and us.”

And if being a part of the Jets means playing on the third and fourth lines and on the penalty kill, Rutkowski accepts that.

“Ruts is great for his role,” Skop said. “Sure, who wouldn't want to score 50? But I really don't think that even crosses his mind. He's not incapable of scoring, though. When he gets chances, he can bury the puck, but he's just as content mucking it up along the walls, chipping the puck deep, blasting an opposing D-man, and going for a change. Every team needs guys like that. You can't win without guys like that.

“I think a good reason for his willingness to do these types of things is his personality. He's a really laid back guy, always relaxed, always laughing. He's great in the room and helps keep things loose, while still staying focused on his job.”

And playing bigger than he really is, too.


The Jets took to the road last weekend for a single game Friday night in Toledo before heading to suburban Cleveland Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

After losing 9-1 to Toledo and then 6-0 to Cleveland in the first game of that series, Metro roared back to beat Cleveland , 3-1, on Sunday afternoon.

“Even after a bad start to the weekend, we were still able to put a good game together Sunday,” said Skop. “Our guys did a good job of forgetting about Friday and Saturday, and putting the work in on Sunday. It was a good character check. It would have been real easy to pack it in on Sunday and go home with our tail tucked between our legs. I like the way we responded in putting a solid 60-minute effort in.”

Josh Magnan scored twice (for a team-best 14 goals) and Ian Mercer stopped all 29 shots he faced after taking over for R.J. Heath after Heath allowed the lone Cleveland goal 39 seconds into the game. Jon Wickersham added an empty-net goal to boost the Jets to 6-13-0-2 on the season.

Skop stopped short, however, in saying that beating Cleveland was the team’s biggest victory this year.

“I don't know if I would call this the biggest win of the season because right now, with where we're at in the standings, they're all big wins,” he said. “What it does do, though, is prove to our guys that if they put the work in, we can compete with and beat the top teams in our league. Now it's just a matter of doing that on a more consistent basis.”

Metro plays just one game this weekend in hosting Motor City on Sunday afternoon at Lakeland Arena for a 1:20 p.m. faceoff. The Jets have defeated the Chiefs in both of their games this season so far.


After naming three alternate captains several weeks ago, the Jets have officially named rookie defenseman Mike Corder as the team captain and he will wear the ‘C’ starting this weekend.

“Mike is definitely the team captain,” Wolfe said. “He works extremely hard and is selfless. He challenges his teammates to get on board when they begin to wonder.”

Skop agreed.

“Cords is just a competitor and he'll do anything to win,” said Skop. “He’s a team-first guy. Not the most talented, but he’s the guy I count on to bring his best every night, and he does. He’s also one of our hardest workers and is just a good all-around team guy.”

Alternate captains remain Wickersham and Brett Grech.

In another roster move, the Jets released rookie defenseman Matt Zacharias this week.


Forward Zeke Costello, who played for the Jets during the 2003-2004 season, has one assist in three games thus far as a senior at Division III Nichols College .

Costello, whose father, Fred, is a former coach of the Jets, played for the NAHL’s Traverse City North Stars and Texarkana Bandits after graduating from the CSHL.

Photo by Andy Grossman

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