Mike Kretz came in as a raw rookie last year for the Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins and played steady defense en route to a 15-point campaign.
This season, Kretz is a year older, a year wiser and a player booming with confidence as he’s already lapped his point total of a year ago and has become a leader on the back end for Pittsburgh.
Ask Kretz where the confidence has come from and he says it's simply the difference of one year.
“This year, I have gotten used to the speed of the game at this level,” said Kretz. “I have a lot more confidence with the puck and I’ve been making better plays. I'm getting a lot of points this year because I have a lot more confidence and try to make more plays than I did last year. I still consider myself a defensive defenseman, though. Our power play has been doing well this year and that’s where the majority of my points come from.”
Of his 27 points this season, 18 have come with the man-advantage, including 16 of his 18 assists.
Being a year more mature has also had Kretz become a major asset to the Jr. Penguins as he's one of just a handful of returning players in the Steel City. The makeup of last season’s team is also one factor Kretz had to adjust to earlier this season.
“Last year's team was made up of local players who had all played together in the past,” Kretz noted. “This year, half of our team is from out of town and it took us a while to get on the same page and play winning hockey.
“We've progressively gotten better over the season up to this point, but we give up too many goals against. I feel that if we get better defensively, no one will be able to beat us.”
An alternate captain, Kretz takes his leadership role seriously, on and off the ice.
“As a captain, I try to lead by example,” said Kretz. “I'm not a very vocal person, so I work as hard as I can in practice and in the gym and encourage the other guys to do the same.”
Having turned 19 right as the season began, Kretz has a couple options for the future, but hasn’t made up his mind just yet.
“I have talked to a few schools about playing with them next year, but I haven't decided yet if I want to go to school next year or play in the NAHL,” Kretz said. “Whatever I do, I just want to play hockey for as long as I can.”
BATTLE CREEK JR. REVOLUTION: Of Radney Ritchie’s 15 points this season, eight have come on the power play - five goals, three assists.
CHICAGO HITMEN: Anthony Domico tallied a goal and an assist in Chicago’s 3-2 loss to Cleveland last Friday night in his first game back after two months with the NAHL’s Hitmen.
CLEVELAND JR. LUMBERJACKS: Cleveland has won seven straight games, outscoring its opponents by a 34-18 margin over that span. The Jr. Lumberjacks last lost on Dec. 12.
FLINT JR. GENERALS: The Jr. Generals play 11 of their final 13 games at Iceland Arena and never leave Michigan again this year as the two road games are at Battle Creek and Metro.
METRO JETS: Matt Stirling popped a hat trick in the Jets’ 5-3 win over Battle Creek last Saturday night and also has eight points (six goals) in his last five games. Stirling leads Metro in scoring with a 17-15-32 line.
MICHIGAN MOUNTAIN CATS: Goalies Bob Schultz and Schuyler Ferguson have nearly identical numbers across the board - each has six wins, each has a 3.82 goals-against average, each has posted one shutout and a shootout loss, and their save percentages (.897/Schultz, .901/Ferguson), goals allowed (58/Schultz, 54/Ferguson) and number of saves (505/Schultz, 493 Ferguson) are similar.
PEORIA MUSTANGS: Nathan Chasteen scored two goals and added two assists in the Mustangs’ two-game sweep of Toledo last weekend on the road.
PITTSBURGH JR. PENGUINS: Charles Williams is tied for the league lead with 11 power-play goals (along with Chasteen) and leads the NA3HL with six game-winning goals. The Jr. Pens have also won 10 games in a row, including the past six at home.
QUAD CITY JR. FLAMES: Keegan Kavanaugh had a goal and two assists in the two games last weekend versus Cleveland. In all, six different skaters scored all six goals for Quad City.
QUEEN CITY STEAM: Cameron Carolus’ goal last Saturday night at St. Louis was his first since Nov. 6 against Battle Creek. Carolus had a four-goal game back on Sept. 18 against Metro.
ST. LOUIS JR. BLUES: Goalie Justin Davis has won his last three games, while Mitch Fernsler is on a five-game streak where he hasn’t lost in regulation (three wins, two shootout losses).
TOLEDO CHEROKEE: Toledo acquired Battle Creek’s top scorer Justin Locante last week and he registered an assist against Peoria last Sunday for his first point in a Cherokee uniform.