Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks’ head coach Bob Jacobson doesn’t think he’s ever had a player before that thinks like Matt Zaremba.
After a 75-point campaign last year with Cleveland along with a three-game stint with the North American Hockey League’s Traverse City North Stars, Zaremba was drafted by Traverse City last May and made the opening night roster.
Only problem is that Zaremba was in the lineup, but wasn’t contributing. That’s where his mature train of thought came into play.
“The head coach with Traverse City, Anthony Palumbo, coached me from Pee Wees up to high school, so we had a pretty good history,” explained Zaremba. “Early on this season, I realized being a ’90 and not going to play Division I hockey meant I had to make some decisions. I had to look at the bigger picture and Palumbo and I talked and decided that going back to Cleveland would be my best option.”
“How many kids think that way?” asked Jacobson.
Since he’s been back in Cleveland, Zaremba has done nothing but put up points and make plans to play for Adrian College’s ACHA Division I team next season.
“I toured the campus and just loved it,” said Zaremba, who will be going back to his home state of Michigan (he’s a Gaylord native) for college. “When I went on a visit, it was very welcoming. I met the dean of the college and the person that runs the business department, which I will be seeing a lot of as I plan to get a degree in business management.
“At the end of the day, we play junior hockey to get an education and once we get that, the hockey is secondary and really becomes just a privilege. I know this league (NA3HL) likes to push guys to the NAHL, but it’s really a heavily-scouted league and if you get your points and work hard, there will always be someone watching you.”
Ironically, Adrian’s head coach is Dan Phelps, a former coach of the now-defunct Michigan Ice Dogs when the NA3HL was known as the Central States Hockey League.
“I think Matt will definitely be an impact player at Adrian,” Jacobson said. “Maybe not as a freshman, but eventually, he’ll be a high-end college player for sure.”
Jacobson also said that before Zaremba made his return to the Jr. Lumberjacks, the team had been struggling.
“We tried every line combination we could and just couldn’t score even if we were playing with soccer nets and no goalie,” laughed Jacobson. “Matt comes back and suddenly, we have offensive leadership. He’s really solidified our offense. He’s also one of those players that have shown the rookies how to play both ends of the ice and not to just hang out by the red line.
“The younger kids have really taken note of how Matt plays and that makes my job easier.”
And while Zaremba has always been an offensive catalyst, he said he’s actually improved since last season when he made the jump right from Gaylord High School.
“Juniors is obviously a lot faster than high school and I think last year, I played with some pretty good offensive player, but this year, maybe I’ve been a little more patient,” explained Zaremba, no relation to Zak Zaremba, a Cleveland alum. “I think that this year when I came back, I saw that Bob had built a totally new team and some of the players were still adjusting. I don’t think I was a main key of getting the team to come together, but it’s been working out well and we’re just playing our game and getting results.”
With just about six weeks left in the NA3HL season, Zaremba said “everyone has individual goals, but the team is what matters.”
“This is a very tight league,” said Zaremba said. “You literally have to take it one game at a time because if you don’t, you’ll drop in the standings. It’s real simple what we want to do - win the Hurster Cup and then get to nationals. This is a team that I think has the ability to do that.”
BATTLE CREEK JR. REVOLUTION: Matthew Schwartz has five points in 19 games with Battle Creek after going pointless in seven games with Flint to start the year.
CHICAGO HITMEN: Chicago captain Quentin Bicknase has six points (three goals, three assists) over his last five games.
CLEVELAND JR. LUMBERJACKS: Troy Bubanic, Cleveland’s captain, recorded two power-play assists two Sundays ago in a 6-1 win over St. Louis.
FLINT JR. GENERALS: Shane Totten has four goals and four assists in seven games for Flint since joining the Jr. Generals at the semester break from Finlandia University.
METRO JETS: The Jets added forward Shane Halaas on Thursday. Halaas started the season with the NAHL’s Port Huron Fighting Falcons, a team that Metro sent forward Tommy Kilgore to last week.
MICHIGAN MOUNTAIN CATS: Ryan Rotondi has averaged a point a game over his last five games with a goal and four assists over that span.
PEORIA MUSTANGS: The first-place Mustangs, who missed the playoffs last season, have allowed a league-low 94 goals.
PITTSBURGH JR. PENGUINS: The Jr. Penguins lead the NA3HL with 189 goals scored, including 85 from their top line of Jayson Angus, Charles Williams and David Dinnison.
QUAD CITY JR. FLAMES: Alexander June made his Quad City debut last weekend with three assists in two games against St. Louis.
QUEEN CITY STEAM: Matthew Wrightson has a point in five straight games (goal, four assists).
ST. LOUIS JR. BLUES: Defenseman Joe Bowler has three goals this season and two of them in his last five games.
TOLEDO CHEROKEE: Justin Locante has tallied three goals in his last two games and has four points in six games since being acquired from Battle Creek.