Mike Denston may not have a letter on his jersey, but he speaks like a true leader.
He knows that there is a difference between winning and losing, but also knows that at the end of the day, hockey is just a game. Denston has been trying to exude that attitude onto his Metro Jets teammates recently as the team is stuck in a losing streak.
“I've just been trying to make sure that everyone is still having fun,” said Denston, a 19-year-old forward. “Whether it's going to team dinners or coming over to my house to play NHL (video games) or just hanging out with the team, we can't beat ourselves up too bad mentally because that's what happened last year and it wasn't fun.
“We've got to keep working hard and do as (head) coach (Jason Cirone) tells us, but we also need to have fun and not lose our heads.”
Even as it seems the Jets’ last win was eons ago, Denston feels more are just around the corner.
“You can definitely tell that we’re not happy with the way things have been going for us, but that hasn't stopped us from working harder every time we get on the ice,” Denston said. “We just have to go back to doing the things that coach has taught us and we'll start winning again.”
A native of nearby White Lake, Mich., Denston grew up following the Jets and started his junior hockey career last season with a 17-point output for his hometown team.
This season, Denston is on pace to eclipse his 2009-2010 point total. More than that, though, is the notion that Denston wants to become a better all-around player on the ice.
“I think the biggest difference this year compared to last year is how serious everyone is taking the season,” said Denston. “It seemed like last year, a lot of guys just showed up to be here. This year, we have a team that comes to the rink looking to get better whether it's a practice or game.
“I'm expecting us to finish hard and win a lot of games. We've been working very hard in practice and we just have to transfer it all to a game for the full 60 minutes and we'll be fine.”
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
After being off last weekend, the Jets (7-14-1-0) travel to suburban Chicago this weekend to take on the league’s top team, the Chicago Hitmen, in a two-game series Saturday and Sunday.
Game time Saturday is 5:30 p.m. EST, while Sunday’s game goes at 3:00 p.m.
Chicago is 18-5-1-0 this year and has scored an NA3HL-best 132 goals, with captain Quentin Bicknase accounting for 21 of them. In goal, Nick Clarke has fashioned an 11-1-0 record with a 1.94 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
The Hitmen swept the Jets in a two-game set in Waterford back on Oct. 30-31.
This time, the Jets are looking for opposite results.
“I can tell you we are physically ready,” Metro captain Morgan James said. “We've worked our tails off the last two weeks prepping for these games. The mental part, which we have, is what it’s going to take to pull it off. We just need to make sure everyone brings it to Chicago.”
Metro returns home next weekend for two games with the Peoria Mustangs at Lakeland Arena. After a road game against the Flint Jr. Generals on Dec. 21, the Jets sit idle for the holiday break, next playing in Pittsburgh Jan. 8-9.
The Jets released defenseman Brennan Borowiak ( Gaylord , Mich.) last Saturday and forward Ryan Kelly (Wilton Manors, Fla.) on Tuesday and signed defenseman Will Shier ( Sterling Heights , Mich.) on Monday.
Borowiak had three assists in 18 games for Metro, while Kelly tallied three assists in six games.
Shier, 18, started the season in the Northern Pacific Hockey League with the Yellowstone Quake and recorded a goal and four assists in 14 games.
Defenseman Austin Shipaila ( Wyoming , Mich.), released by the Jets on Nov. 25, signed with Battle Creek last Friday.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Forward Dominic Osman, who played for Metro during the 1999-2000 season, is now in his fourth pro season and second with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
After playing for the Jets, the 28-year-old Dearborn , Mich., native played for the Soo Indians, Capital Centre Pride and Cleveland Barons in the North American Hockey League and then four years of Division I college hockey at Lake Superior State University.