Jason Cirone grabbed his cell phone just minutes after his Metro Jets team wrapped up practice last Wednesday at Lakeland Arena and saw he had a missed call.
“Bill Warren called,” said Cirone, noting Warren is the head coach of the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the North American Hockey League. “I need to call him back. Can you guys keep it down in here for a few minutes?”
A brief phone call and a huge grin later, Cirone looked at the Jets’ staff and beamed, “They’re going to play him both games this weekend.”
The “him” Cirone was referring to was forward Tommy Kilgore, an 18-year-old from Pinckney, Mich., who had been practicing with Port Huron all week and impressed the Fighting Falcons’ staff to where he earned himself a roster spot.
“Jason had called me into his office a few days before that and asked if I’d be interested in playing for an NAHL team this season and I, of course, said I was,” Kilgore said. “He told me Port Huron wanted to give me a shot, so I went up there and skated with them for three days and then they decided to keep me.”
Kilgore played in both games in Traverse City last weekend and even though he was held without a point playing on a line with Ian Miller and Matt Ragains, the experience of playing in the NAHL, bus ride included, was priceless.
“Everyone was very nice on the bus, asking me where I was from, where I played, things like that,” explained Kilgore, who had 12 goals and 25 points in 31 games with the Jets this year. “I already knew Miller from when we played spring hockey for Compuware a few years ago. Matt and I talked a little bit on the bus about some things we wanted to do on the ice, so it was definitely a good time.”
When game time came Friday night, the jitters came to Kilgore quite heavily.
“I was very nervous right before my first shift and I think even more during my first shift because I didn’t want to make a mistake,” Kilgore said. “After that first shift and maybe the second one, I felt very comfortable and it just seemed like another game to me.”
Kilgore joins a long list of Metro skaters who have joined NAHL teams straight from Waterford, including recent players Jacob DeSano, who played for the North Iowa Outlaws in 2008-2009, Sam Bell, who played for the Motor City Metal Jackets in 2009-2010 and Port Huron this year, and Steven Oleksy, who was with the Traverse City North Stars during their inaugural season of 2005-2006.
“It’s just crazy how fast everything has happened,” said Kilgore. “My goal last year playing high school hockey (for Pinckney High School) was to eventually get to the NAHL, but I never expected it would happen so fast.”
Ask Cirone, and he feels it was only a matter of time.
“That’s what we’re here for - to move these kids to the next level,” said Cirone. “Around Christmastime, Tommy really picked up his game and showed that he wanted to be a hockey player. I think I might be happier than Tommy that he’s in the NAHL, but he’s earned everything he has and is being rewarded for his hard work and desire to be a hockey player.”
Kilgore said heeding Cirone’s words all season long with the Jets helped him land his spot in Port Huron.
“One thing Jason has touched on all year is that if you work hard in practice, that will make it easier to work hard in games,” said Kilgore. “Now that I’ve made it to the NAHL, I know that I’ll have to work even harder.”
No word yet on whether the Fighting Falcons are keeping Kilgore for the rest of the season or returning him to the Jets, but even if he’s returned, odds are great that he’ll be in the NAHL next year.