FRASER, MI -- Since the 1980s, Detroit-area players – and those from well beyond Motor City – have gotten to know the name of the Metro Jets quite well.
One of the longest-lasting junior hockey franchises still in operation, the Jets have survived and thrived because of an unstoppable work ethic and a commitment to consistent excellence that has produced players at every NCAA level and nearly all pro levels throughout its storied history.
The team recently announced its move for 2018-19 to the United States Premier Hockey League, where it will compete in the USPHL Premier’s Great Lakes Division.
Most recently, the Jets added to their reputation by winning the NA3HL’s Fraser Cup, the organization’s first championship after two previous trips to the Fraser Cup Nationals.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success these last five years, so it’s nice to cap it off with a championship,” said head coach Justin Quenneville. “It’s hard enough to get to the Fraser Cup finals, let alone win. It was a combination of timely saves from our goaltenders, clutch goals from all of our players and our defense playing great in their own defensive zone.”
The title also brought the Metro Jets back to the top after winning back-to-back championships in the former Central States Hockey League in 2001 and 2002.
“This will be the 30th year of the organization. I think it’s pretty unique. The strong franchises that create models for long-term success and stability have a little more tradition in how they operate,” said Quenneville. “Hal Wolfe set the foundation prior to Pete Cammick coming on board a few years ago, and he’s helped our hockey operations department take it to the next level.”
The Metro Jets, who operate out of the Detroit suburb of Fraser, Mich., certainly have a rich demographic of local hockey players to work with – all but two of the Fraser Cup championship team’s players hail from Michigan. However, the team is not looking at addresses when picking the players they put on the roster – they want players who want to be pushed, players who are students of the game, and players who want to be college hockey student-athletes.
“The fact is we’re able to find players who want to be challenged, and put them into an environment where they are tested every single week,” said Quenneville. “Everyone here comes in with an individual goal, whether it’s to find a college commitment or move up in junior hockey. They know that, every week, if they’re not bringing their ‘A’ game, they could lose their spot. We don’t put any emphasis on age or experience – we want players who have the mindset of getting better every week, so they can not only get to the next level, but contribute when they get there.”
The Metro Jets had such a player as far back as the early 2000s, when alum Eric Ehn was the first Air Force Academy player to be named a Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist for the trophy honoring NCAA Division 1 college hockey’s best player.
Just after Ehn moved to the NAHL from the Jets, Steven Oleksy joined the team for three years. He would later play 80 regular season and playoff games in the NHL, and he is currently playing for the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.
More recently, Frenchman Louis Boudon played for the Jets during the 2016-17 season before joining the Northeast Generals in the NAHL this year. He is moving on to Lake Superior State University, and will also likely see future games with the French National Team, after representing his country in the World Under-18 and World Under-20 championships.
This year, five players are committed to NCAA Division 3 schools, and three more have already earned tenders with NAHL teams. One other player will move on to the American College Hockey Association.
Two of the championship players – Connor Inger and Andrew Kormos – are moving on together to New England College.
“Inger and I get along really well, and that will obviously help with the transition,” Kormos said. “College is a whole different level, but at least having someone I know there will really help.”
The Metro Jets are more than just a stop on the line of a player’s career, however – it is a culture based within an organization that introduces players to hockey at the Little Jets Learn to Skate level. From there, the Jets provide a platform for year-to-year improvement up through the Midget levels, and on to its championship junior hockey team.
“We have a full association, and the junior team is the icing on the cake,” said Quenneville. “We are not Tier-1 and we don’t want to be Tier-1. We want to be a top Tier-2 organization that finds kids who might have different reasons for not being Elite players at a young age. We create the environment where kids can come and become even better. If we can help a youth hockey player develop and move them on to Tier-1 AAA hockey, then we’ve succeeded.”
Six former Metro Jets youth players were members of this year’s Fraser Cup championship team.“That was an increase from the year before,” said Quenneville. “Every year, we grow stronger, and every year, more people buy into the development program.”
The key word going into the Jets’ third Fraser Cup final in three years was “confidence.”
With the final going into overtime, before being won by Jets forward Jhuwon Davis, it was obviously anybody’s game, but Quenneville and his coaching staff were not nervous.
“It was our calmest, from a coaching standpoint. Maybe we were even overconfident, we felt like it was our time,” said Quenneville. “We didn’t play great in the final, but we picked up the pace as the game went on and controlled the majority of the game. In the third period, we were all over them. That was how our team was built – to get better as the game went on, and that’s a testament to our strength and conditioning coach Jamie Lovell.”
Both the goaltenders, Andrew Kormos and Brian Tallieu, saw time throughout the season and right into the Fraser Cup Nationals.
“They gave us completely different looks,” said Quenneville. “Andrew is smaller and more aggressive, very animated. Brian Talliou is more of a patient, deep goalie who really reads the play well.”
“The Jets gave me every opportunity to succeed, and my skills improved tremendously,” said Kormos. “I’ve improved my game 100 percent. There’s no way I’d be going to school if not for playing there.”
NCAA-bound defensemen Trevor Momot, George Hansen, Robby Flannery and Northeast Generals (NAHL) tender Kyle Gierman anchored the blue line.
Inger led the way with seven points in the Fraser Cup Nationals, but 13 Jets scored goals in the five games, with four of those players scoring two.
Inger is moving on to New England College with Kourmos, while Schaumberger (Wilkes-Barre) and Reggie Millette (Austin) have earned NAHL tenders. Davis, Brodie Thornton and Jeremy Schwartz “were the biggest rookies for us this year.”
For Inger, there was never a question of where he was going to play his final junior season.
“I was pretty set on playing for the Jets,” he added. “Our coaches [stressed] working on each player’s skills more than team systems. Coach ‘Q’ played a skill game, so he gave me a lot of helpful hints around the net. I had the same amount of assists per game this past year, but I scored more goals.”
“I’ve loved playing here the last two years,” added Kormos. “From the facilities to the coaching staff, everything is top notch. They really put it on us as players to do what we can with everything they give us.”