Friday, March 30, 2012

Solid season has Jets back on the map

As the Metro Jets players and staff gathered for the annual team photo at Lakeland Arena recently, it seemed to bring closure to a season that put the Jets back on the junior hockey map.

With 29 wins during the regular season after a combined 32 the previous three seasons, Metro had the right mix of talented players who all accepted their roles and bought into the system head coach Jason Cirone taught.

Cirone feels that even though the Jets were knocked out of the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs in the first round, the season was still everything he expected it to be.

“You go over in your mind ways you might have done things differently, like picked up different players or made different moves, but I came to the conclusion every time that we did it the right way,” said Cirone. “There’s not one thing I would change about this season.”

Metro defenseman Will Shier, one of the team’s alternate captains, agreed with Cirone.

“This season was great and was the best season the Jets have had in many years,” said Shier. “We had an unbelievable amount of talent and probably the hardest working group of guys I’ve ever seen. All of us developed and had a positive impact on each other this year.

“This season was definitely different from last year. Last year was the start of what we created this season. We worked hard last year, surprised a lot of people, and showed everyone what the Jets were capable of in the future. This season, we only improved and doubled our wins from last year. Now everyone knows the Jets are a great hockey team and are no longer an underdog.”

All season, Cirone stressed the importance of hard work and the circumstances it brings. Again, the players were sold on what Cirone was teaching and it paid off dramatically.

“It’s easy for me to call a coach at a higher level and tell them to come look at one of our kids because he works hard and is a good player,” Cirone said. “It’s the kids that put it all on the line. Every one of our kids put in the effort and worked hard all year, right to the end.”

As a second-year coach, Cirone came in at the start of the 2010-11 season and the team was pretty much set. After last season, Cirone and the Jets’ staff set out to build a team from scratch. A handful of players from the ’10-11 season were back with the Jets, but Metro built the core of the team from the draft and from scouting free agents.

Steve Klisz was taken with one of the last picks in the 2011 NA3HL draft and wound up leading the Jets in scoring. Mike MacKinnon kept pace with Klisz all year in the scoring department and both finished in a second-place tie in the league scoring race.

Dillon Kelley emerged as a little-known goalie to one of the league’s best and picked up 18 wins this year, good for third in the league. Tommy Kilgore wore the ‘C’ for the Jets in his second season and led the team with a quiet, but confident, tone. Doug Andrews came to Waterford looking to fine-tune his offensive game and earned praise all year from Cirone as one of the Jets’ more consistent players.

On defense, where injuries depleted the back end most nights, the team held up and was able to see players like John Baker and Adam Reid play 30 minutes a game and come to rely on Kelley to make the big saves when called upon.

Without singling out certain players, even those that have plans in place for next season, Cirone instead focused on how the Jets became a team on and off the ice, which in turn made his job a little bit easier.

“With the help of a lot of dedicated people, we selected a really good team this year,” said Cirone. “This isn’t just my team. It might say it’s my team on paper, but we have some unbelievable people here that helped put this team together. When I think about, no one guy sticks out as being that superstar. These kids worked as a team and played as a team and as a unit, these kids came a long way.”

Shier sees brighter days ahead in Waterford.

“After many rough seasons, I believe the players from last year’s team and this year’s team really built a great foundation for this organization,” said Shier. “We showed everyone there are many great things to come. I believe the team will only move forward from here.

“We have a lot of young guys that can take this team to the top and achieve great things.”

Photo/Matt Mackinder

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Muskegon adds new staff member to team

The Muskegon Lumberjacks have announced that Joe Abdelkader has been added to the team’s front office staff as housing and academic coordinator.

The father of Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader, who played in the USHL before heading to Michigan State, Joe Abdelkader brings his experience as a longtime local educator and hockey dad to the Lumberjacks.

“Joe is a perfect fit for our organization,” said Lumberjacks president/COO Tim Taylor. “He has limitless energy and is very passionate about what we’re doing. He wants to further our efforts in building one of the best junior programs in hockey.”

As a teacher in the Reeths-Puffer school system for 35 years, Abdelkader augmented his decades in area classrooms with various stints coaching sports teams, including middle-school tennis and golf squads.

But with a son in the NHL, hockey has been at the epicenter of the Abdelkader family and it will be even more now.

“Our whole life revolves around hockey,” Abdelkader said. “I’m excited to get started and see what we can improve in the off-ice department. Hopefully, we can help in building a championship organization.”

The Abdelkaders certainly know winning, as Justin claimed a Clark Cup title with Cedar Rapids in 2005, won the NCAA national championship with Michigan State two years later and then hoisted the Stanley Cup the following season, his rookie year with the Red Wings.

“Justin has said that he probably wouldn’t have gotten to where he is without the USHL and our family agrees,” Abdelkader said. “The level of play is on par with college hockey and our family was impressed with the league years ago. I’m thrilled to get involved.”

Abdelkader will manage the relationships between Lumberjacks players, their host families (“billets”) and Mona Shores High School, which has a partnership with the team to educate its school-age skaters. Among other duties, he will coordinate study sessions, keep host families aware of the team schedule and keep players’ families active in their sons’ development.

“Joe brings good ideas on how to keep lines of communications open among players, their families and our billets,” Taylor said. “Add in the education aspect, and Joe will be directing two very important pieces of our organization.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

NTDP announces first six commitments

Forwards Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), Jared Fiegl (Parker, Colo.), Dylan Larkin (Waterford, Mich.) and Ryan MacInnis (St. Louis, Mo.), along with defensemen Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.) and Jack Glover (Golden Valley, Minn.) have committed to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for the 2012-13 season, it was announced today.

The players, all from the 1996 birth year, will compete as members of the U.S. National Under-17 Team.

“We are pleased to welcome this talented group to the NTDP,” said NTDP director of player personnel Peter Ward. “These players will provide a solid foundation for future signings and we will continue to find the top talent in the country as we fill out our roster.”

During the 2011-12 season, Eichel skated for the Boston Junior Bruins team of the Empire Junior Hockey League. He scored 39 goals and added 47 assists in 36 games. His 86 points were fourth most in the league.

Fiegl competed for the Colorado Rampage Midget Minor team of the Tier I Elite League and recorded 22 points (11-11), which was third most on the squad. He also chipped in with one power-play tally and one game-winning goal.

Larkin comes from the Belle Tire (Mich.) Midget Minor team of the Tier I Elite League, where he averaged a point a game, scoring 11 goals and collecting 11 assists in 22 games. Four of Larkin's 11 tallies were game-winning goals. His season was shortened due to injury.

MacInnis played for the St. Louis Blues Midget Minor team of the Tier I Elite League during the 2011-12 campaign. He ranked first on the team with 47 points (27-20) in 34 games. MacInnis finished tied for eighth overall in points within the league and tied for fourth in scoring with 27 goals.

Bliss skated for St. Paul's (N.H.) School of the New England Prep School League. He recorded one goal and added three assists in 21 games.

During the 2011-12 campaign, Glover played for Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) High School of the Minnesota State High School League and notched two goals and 16 assists in 27 games as the Red Knights claimed the 2012 MSHSL Class AA State Championship.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Muskegon alums in NCAA tourney

The Muskegon Lumberjacks are dedicated to player development and that commitment will be on display this weekend as five of their former players get a taste of the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament.

Lumberjacks’ alumni Matt Berry (pictured), Alexx Privitera, John Parker, Mike Conderman and Micki Mihailovich are all set to represent their schools in this weekend’s regionals to be played in four locations. Sixteen teams remain in the hunt for the Frozen Four, which will take place April 5-7 in Tampa, Fla.

Overall, there are 217 United States Hockey League alumni among the 424 players on tournament qualifiers, giving the country’s top junior league 51 percent of the postseason talent pool. 35 percent of all Division I players this season had USHL experience.

Berry, a Canton native who led last year’s Lumberjacks with 25 goals, netted 10 as a freshman for No. 15 Michigan State, which collides with No. 3 Union Friday at 3 p.m. in the East Regional from Bridgeport, Conn. The Spartans are returning to the tourney for the first time since 2008. Berry’s 10 goals were second best on the team and his 18 points ranked him fifth. He was an Honorable Mention to the CCHA All-Rookie Team.

Privitera scored the fourth-most points (34) among USHL defenseman last year in Muskegon, and he brought his high-octane act to Boston University this winter. The New Jersey product bounced back from a broken wrist to post 14 points (4g, 10a) for the No. 10 Terriers, who square off with sixth-ranked Minnesota at 5 p.m. Saturday in the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. BU won the national title in 2009.

No. 11 Maine – with the help of Parker, last season’s Lumberjacks captain – will take on defending NCAA title-holder Minnesota-Duluth Saturday night at 7:30. Parker, who scored 31 points in Muskegon and won the USHL’s Clark Cup in 2009, skated in 32 games and posted seven points (3g, 4a) for the Black Bears, who will take the ice in Worcester, Mass., for the East Regional.

After battling through injuries early this season, Conderman and Mihailovich combined to play in seven games for UMass-Lowell, which makes its return to the tournament with a game against No. 7 Miami University Friday night in the East. The 13th-ranked River Hawks are making their fourth appearance in the regionals and first since 1996.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chlapik named to Czech World U18 roster

Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Adam Chlapik has been named to the Czech Republic’s preliminary roster for April’s IIHF U18 World Championship.

Chlapik will depart for his native country this weekend and join the Czech team’s pre-tournament camp in advance of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual get-together, which takes place April 12-24 in the Czech cities of Brno and Znojmo.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” said Chlapik, who joined the Lumberjacks in a November trade with Tri-City. “[The tournament] is only two or three hours from my hometown. I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

Chlapik, 18, will be first-year eligible for the NHL Draft this June and was rated as the seventh-best USHL prospect by Red Line Report last fall. The 6-foot, 185-pound left-handed shooter has 17 points this season in America’s top junior league.

“Besides the National Team Development Program, no other USHL team will be represented at the U18 World Championship,” said Lumberjacks owner/GM Josh Mervis. “We are pleased to help Adam earn a chance to compete for his country.”

Chlapik, who will not play this weekend for the Lumberjacks, is set to take part in the Czech squad’s preliminary camp that begins next Tuesday. The roster will then be whittled down to its final version prior to the start of the competition in three weeks.

The talented forward believes his abilities could translate quite well at the U18 championship, which will be played on the wider international ice surface.

“It’s more about skill over there because the rink is bigger and you have more time and space with the puck,” Chlapik said.

The Czech Republic is grouped with Denmark, Finland, Canada and the United States for the round-robin portion of the tournament. Latvia, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland make up the other half of the 10-team competition.

The top three teams from each group advance to the single-elimination portion of the U18 World Championship, with group winners earning byes to the semifinal round.

The United States has won the 13-year-old event six times, including the last three in a row.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jets ready for Cleveland in NA3HL playoffs

After going 3-5 against the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks over the course of the regular season, the Metro Jets are hoping for better results this weekend as they open the North American 3 Hockey League’s Hurster Cup playoffs in Cleveland in a best-of-three series.

The winner of the series will advance to play the Flint-Pittsburgh winner for the right to go to the NA3HL championship series in suburban Chicago at the end of the month.

Due to the NA3HL re-structuring the playoff format, all teams in all four divisions qualify. The last time the Jets made the playoffs was in 2007 when they were swept in two straight games by the Dubuque Thunderbirds.

Metro captain Tommy Kilgore knows that regular season stats go out the window this time of year and that Friday night starts a new season.

“I just try to remind the guys what we are playing for, and they already know, and they’ve come focused everyday,” said Kilgore. “We expect (Cleveland) to come out hard right out of the gate and we plan to match or exceed their effort so we can keep our season going.”

The Jets beat Cleveland on Jan. 28 and March 11 in shootouts and then 6-5 on Feb. 4 in a back-and-forth affair.

Cleveland outscored Metro, 44-26, in their eight games during the season.

“Cleveland is a good hockey team and they were the top team in the league the first half of the season,” said Jets’ coach Jason Cirone. “We just have to go in there and be ready to play. If we’re not ready to play, it’ll be a very short series.”

Jets’ forward Cameron Bazin is excited to head to Cleveland and get the series underway.

“I think as a team, we all know what to expect and how we have to play to beat them,” Bazin said. “It will be a hard-fought series and even harder since we play in their building. I think we want to win a lot more than any other team and we won't let anything stop us from that. Cleveland is a real solid team, but I think when we are on our game we can beat anyone.

“If you take the last three games we played against Cleveland, we are 2-1, which is what we need to go at worst to win this series. I know the atmosphere in these games will be a lot different from the regular season, but we know we can beat them and we know how to beat them. A major key to winning the series is using our team motto "Do What We Do," which means just always playing our game and everyone playing the way that excels them the most. Another key would be always going all out on every shift, whether it's for 30 seconds or a minute, and just never toning it down.”

Metro goalie Dillon Kelley, who said goalies are always under the microscope, isn’t about to cave into pressure.

“You always feel that pressure, but it’s how you handle it,” said Kelley. “As for feeling uncomfortable or nervous, I don’t feel that way at all. I have confidence in my game as well as my teammates. I’ll be there for my team and vice versa.”

Game 1 is at 8 p.m. Friday night and 8 p.m. Saturday night at Ice Land U.S.A. in Strongsville with a 1:30 p.m. start time if a Game 3 is needed on Sunday.

“We have been fine-tuning our game and know what we need to do to win,” added Metro defenseman Will Shier. “This preparation has lead to confidence and we are ready for this weekend.

”The key is to play our game and do what we do. That’s what will win the series for us.”

Photo/Matt Mackinder

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Warriors apparently staying in Flint

There is no official word from the team, but a story Monday on states the Michigan Warriors will be back in the Vehicle City next season.

Michigan Warriors have agreement in place to remain in Flint

Friday, March 09, 2012

Jets' MacKinnon brimming with confidence

In the month of February, there was no one better in the North American 3 Hockey League than Metro Jets’ forward Mike MacKinnon.

His 19 points led all players and the league rewarded him by naming him its Player of the Month.

That said, MacKinnon has been consistent all season long and is playing his best hockey at the right time.

Ask MacKinnon, though, and he puts all the credit on his teammates.

“Everyone on the team has been playing well as of late and we have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” said MacKinnon, a 19-year-old Troy native drafted by the Jets in the second round (20th overall) last June. “It's really showed as our offense has put up big numbers. Personally, I thought I was going to have a good season, but to be in the hunt for the league scoring title has just been a bonus for me.”

“Mike and his entire line (with Steve Klisz and Trevor Bardallis) were great all month long,” said Jets coach Jason Cirone. “He produces, puts up big numbers and scores the big goals. I think he definitely has the ability to play at the next level. Mike is smart and understands the game. He has goals and is focused on accomplishing them.”

With 67 points heading into this weekend, MacKinnon is tied for second with Klisz. Cleveland’s Cameron Dimmitt has 73 points. The two teams play each other to wrap up the regular season down in Cleveland.

“Winning the scoring title would be great for me or Klisz,” said MacKinnon, who is one of three Jets (Klisz and Doug Andrews) to play in all 46 games this season. “We've been on the same line the whole year and I feel like we’re the two best players in the league and if we play our game, no one can stop us.”

MacKinnon is hoping his strong season will result in North American Hockey League teams taking notice, as some have signed tenders for next season and seen time in the NAHL already this year.

”I'm really happy for all of my teammates signing tenders for next year and of course, I'd like to add my name to that list, but I try not to focus on all that stuff,” MacKinnon said. “If I keep playing the way I can, I know something will open up for me down the line.”

After this weekend, the Jets will venture into the NA3HL Hurster Cup playoffs. Win or lose, MacKinnon feels this year has been a successful one.

”This season has been great for me and has been my most fun year of hockey in my life,” MacKinnon said. “I wouldn't change anything. This team has had a lot of success and we're an extremely confident group. We feel like were the best team in the league and there isn't anyone we can’t beat.”


The Jets were blanked in Flint last Wednesday (Feb. 29) by a 7-0 mark and then were idle over last weekend.

This coming weekend, Metro hosts Cleveland for its last two games of the regular season at Lakeland Arena. Game time is 7:50 p.m. Saturday night and then 11:50 a.m. on Sunday.


Metro will see its first playoff action in six years next weekend when the Jets play on the road for a best-of-three series against Cleveland.

Games 1 (March 16) and 2 (March 17) start at 8 p.m., and if a deciding third game is needed, it will be played March 18 at 1:30 p.m.

The NA3HL announced this week that a new expansion team will join the league next year as the Breezy Point (Minn.) North Stars were granted admission into the league.


Two former Jets (defenseman Jacob DeSano and forward Adam Novack) played in the ACHA Division I national championship game Wednesday night for Oakland University, a game the Grizzlies ultimately lost to Delaware, 5-1, in Strongsville, Ohio.

Novack was named to the ACHA D-I All-National Tournament Second Team.

Three other Metro alums in forwards David Merkle and Art Dore and defenseman Mike Corder also skated with OU this year.

Corder (2009-10) and Novack (2008-09) are both former Jets captains.

Current Jets forward Branden Morganroth will play at OU this fall.

Photo/Matt Mackinder

Thursday, March 08, 2012

NTDP names evaluation camp attendees

Fifty-three of the top American players born in 1996 have been invited to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp, it was announced today by USA Hockey.

The camp, which is held to help select the 2012-13 U.S. National Under-17 Team, will take place March 19-23 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

"We have a terrific group of players and look for the talent level and competitiveness to be high,” said NTDP director of player personnel Peter Ward.

The players will be divided into three teams - Red, White and Blue - and will participate in on-ice practices, off-ice training, four 30-minute games and two full games. Each team will consist of nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders.

NTDP alum Brett Henning (1997-98) will serve as a coach at the camp, guiding Team Blue. In addition, NTDP assistant coaches Matt Curley and Tyler Eaves will guide Team White and Team Red, respectively.

For a complete roster of the invitees, click here.

NOTES: The 53 players on the NTDP Evaluation Camp roster represent 17 different states. Minnesota leads the way with seven natives on the roster, while Illinois and New York each boast six.

Michigan has five - Belle Tire Midget Minor forwards Kyle Connor (Shelby Township), Dylan Larkin (Waterford) and Dylan Pavelek (Marysville), Honeybaked Midget Minor defenseman Joshua Jacobs (Shelby Township) and Belle Tire Midget Minor blueliner Ryan Mantha (Clarkston).

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Two future 'Jacks honored in Minnesota

In a hockey-mad state like Minnesota, it takes a lot to stand out.

A pair of future Muskegon Lumberjacks were special enough to do just that.

Muskegon affiliate list players Grant Besse and Michael Brodzinski were both named to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s All-Metro Team this week.

Besse, a sharp-shooting junior forward for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and Brodzinski, a junior Blaine High School defenseman who will make his Lumberjacks debut this weekend, were among 19 players honored by the paper Tuesday. Muskegon holds the USHL rights to both high-end talents.

A 5-foot-10 lefthanded shooter, Besse has nailed 44 goals in 28 games this season for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, which is still alive in the Minnesota high school playoffs. His 107 goals over three years makes him the premier sniper in school history. Besse also led the Red Knights with 75 points this winter, fourth-best total in the Minneapolis metro area. He was selected to the All-Metro First Team and will play NCAA hockey at the University of Wisconsin.

Brodzinski also led his team in goals and points, but his offense came from the blueline. The Blaine Bengals rearguard, acquired in a trade with Des Moines last month, pumped in 16 goals and added 20 assists in 28 games. Brodzinski, who has committed to the University of Minnesota and was named to the All-Metro Second Team, is slated to dress in Muskegon’s home games Friday and Saturday.

“Michael is a high-end player and we’re excited to see what he can do,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jim McKenzie. “He’s obviously very skilled and we have a couple of Minnesota guys (Ryan Bullock and Tyler Heinonen) that can help him feel comfortable here.”

Friday, March 02, 2012

Soo Eagles granted NAHL membership

New team based out of Sault Ste. Marie has acquired the Traverse City North Stars

The North American Hockey League has announced that the Soo Eagles, a Sault Ste. Marie-based junior hockey team, has been granted a membership into the NAHL effective for the 2012-13 season.

The group was granted approval to operate in the Sault Ste. Marie market conditioned upon acquiring and relocating an existing NAHL membership.

“We set out as an ownership group in June of 2010 to provide boys an opportunity to improve their game, grow as men, give back to the community, and provide a track to NCAA Division I and Division III college hockey programs,” said Soo Eagles owner Ron Lavin. “We’re delighted to have been accepted in the NAHL and we want to be sure everyone within the community knows that we are keeping the Soo Eagles hockey team right here in Sault Ste. Marie. Mayor Tony Bosbous, city manager Spencer Nebel and parks and recreation director Dan Wyers have all been extremely supportive and helpful to us and we appreciate their support.”

This isn’t the first time an NAHL team has been in the Sault Ste. Marie area. The Soo Kewadin Indians played in the NAHL from 1995-2005, producing players like current Buffalo Sabres goaltender and Michigan native Ryan Miller.

“We are very pleased to have a team back in the Sault Ste. Marie area because it has such a passionate and knowledgeable fan base,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “The NAHL’s roots reside in the state of Michigan and we are happy that we are adding a quality organization like the Soo Eagles to our already well-established footprint in the area. With the amount of NCAA hockey programs in the area, it is a natural fit and will provide the players the best opportunity for exposure as they look to build their hockey careers.”

“Working with the NAHL and Mark Frankenfeld has been a great experience thus far and we look forward to a long, successful relationship that develops the growth of young men who decide to play in the NAHL, on and off of the ice," continued Lavin. "We’re very pleased with the extensive and thorough process that it took to be approved by the NAHL. As an organization, we are making a significant financial commitment and are looking forward to the continued support of our local fans and sponsors. Without them, we couldn’t begin to take on this new project. It’s our goal to sell 300 season tickets for the upcoming year.”

The Eagles will play their home games out of Pullar Stadium, which seats 2,250 spectators for hockey games. The facility has private locker rooms, a training room and team offices on site.

Local broadcast group Sovereign Communications will deliver live coverage of the Eagles' games on their all-sports radio station ESPN 1400 AM again next season. Veteran hockey announcer John Bell will continue to bring fans the play-by-play action. A presentation to and final approval by the USA Hockey junior council is expected no later than March 14.