With the 2010-2011 North American 3 Hockey League season now in the rear-view mirror, Metro Jets head coach Jason Cirone has had time to reflect on the season – what went wrong, what went right, and what’s ahead for the Jets.
Cirone recently sat down with MetroJetsHockey.com at Lakeland Arena for an in-depth Q & A session.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: What were your impressions from a coaching standpoint as to how the season went?
JC: I think we came in under some tough conditions and on Day 1, we only had nine players rostered. We kind of had to feel our way around and call in a few favors to get our roster filled out, but the kids that came in, they did a hell of a job. I thought up until the (NA3HL) Showcase (in October), we were a very competitive team and then we made a few deals to bring a few kids in and made us stronger, but I think at the same time, we kind of fell apart in other areas.
Special teams I don’t think meant what I wanted them to mean this year and I think our goaltending really struggled at times this year, but when they didn’t struggle, the rest of the team struggled, so I don’t think we really put it together from Day 1.
The fortunate and the unfortunate thing is that the last three weekends of the season, I thought was the true team that we could be. We did have the 8-0 loss in Cleveland, but other than that, our goaltending put it together at the same time as the rest of our players and we go out and sweep Quad City, and then they go out and beat St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs. It tells you a little about what we could have accomplished and what we should be able to accomplish next year.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: Looking ahead to next season, will it be a major benefit to you being here for the draft, the tryouts, all the summer events, and to know what type of team you want to have and to know now what types of kids you want to recruit?
JC: I think so. I hope what we accomplished this year by bringing in guys like (goaltending coach) Randy (Wilson) and (assistant coach) Sean (Clark) and keeping (associate coach) Jamie (Hayden) and having (head scout) Tim (Ross) around more and watching more games, I hope people take note of that and recognize that we’re trying harder.
(Jets GM) Butch (Wolfe) has done a little changing himself in the way things work and I think we’ve improved the organization. I hope people outside of our organization realize that. It makes it easier to put a team together next year and makes kids want to come here. Tim’s done a lot of work and Sean and Butch and myself and then Randy, he watches probably 500-600 games a year.
There will not be a kid who slips through the cracks and there is not a reason for them to not want to come here with the kind of coaching they’re going to get.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: What players stood out from Game 1 to Game 45 this season?
JC: Kids like Matt Stirling, certainly. I think he was our most consistent player, but was he our best player every night? No, but he was never our worst player. He did a great job and led our team in goals (with 24) – that was unexpected.
I think Brett Grech did a great job for us and when he got injured with the cut on the back of his leg and missed eight or nine games, that’s when our team really struggled. That was probably another downfall of our season, when he got injured.
As for other kids, I think Morgan James came in and did a hell of a job for us, considering he didn’t play hockey last year. Tommy Kilgore got a chance to go up and play in the North American Hockey League and really improved his game throughout the year. There were really a lot of kids that came in and just worked hard. Mike Moroso was another kid that came out of AA hockey and scored 20 goals. It’s looking really good for next year, I think.
We had a last-year guy this year, Justin Bennett, who couldn’t find his role all year, and then the last month-and-a-half of the season, he was probably one of our best players, which is a credit to him - he didn’t quit and he played right to the end. I can pretty much say that about all our kids.
I think our whole team, and based on some of the things I heard about last season when there were times we had trouble putting 15 kids on the ice, the last road trip of the season at Quad City, I had to sit three kids out of the lineup because we had too many. I give the kids a lot of credit. They never, ever quit and they worked hard all year. Did they work hard and smart? No, but they’re kids and that’s what we’re here for, to guide them and to teach them. I thank them and I give them a lot of credit for not quitting.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: What is your philosophy entering June’s NA3HL draft? Is there a specific type of player you’re after or will it be like in the NHL where you take the best players available?
JC: I think we’ll start out with the best available and are there holes to fill? Definitely. As much as I love our goaltenders from last season (Eric Trunick and Matt Braun), I think we need to upgrade there. That said, if that means them coming in and playing better, great, but we’re not going to be a team that stands pat and gives up eight, nine, 10, 13 goals a night. That’s pretty frustrating not only for me, but for the guys in front of the goalie, too.
I think we look for the best player available and then we go from there and start filling holes. We have two tenders now and I think we’ll use those to fill two gaping holes. We also have two first-round picks and in the first four rounds, we have four or five picks, so we’ll fill holes with those picks with the best players available.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: When did the planning for next season start for the Jets?
JC: The planning for next season started with about a month to go in this past season. You’re always thinking about next season no matter what’s happening. Even if we finished first overall and we’re getting ready for the playoffs, you’re always thinking about next year. We’ll meet here at the rink once a week we’ll go over stuff we need to go over, players we want to try and get out here and we’ll be starting our Monday night skates (beginning April 11 at Farmington Hills Ice Arena) so we can look at and evaluate players as a springboard to get themselves ready for North American Hockey League camps.
There is a lot of work to be done, there is a lot of work that’s been done already and it’s pretty exciting to see what’s going to happen and what we hope is going to happen.
METROJETSHOCKEY.COM: This was your first season as a head coach in junior hockey. Was there something you learned about coaching at this level and maybe something you learned about yourself?
JC: One of the things I learned is that it’s not a sprint - it’s a marathon. It’s a long season and I think at the beginning of the year, I don’t want to say I was emotional, but I think I wore it a little on my sleeve than at the end of the year.
I think I learned more from the kids this year, good and bad, than I have in any of my previous years coaching. We had some pretty weird situations this year and a couple of unusual demands and questions, but I think I started with the weirdest it could get, I’m hoping, and I hope I don’t run into any of the situations I ran into this season again.
There were no off-ice problems, but just crazy ‘Can I miss a game to go to a high school dance?’ kind of stuff. I don’t think kids realize that they have to sacrifice to be hockey players and me being what I am and how long I played, I never really heard those kinds of questions and never really thought of a high school dance before a hockey game.
This season was an experience, it was fun and I could probably write a real good book, but I guess I should be ready for any more surprises that are coming because there will always be surprises, I guess.