By Matt Mackinder
Junior hockey is cyclical – the players come and go and there is certain change every offseason.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the past five seasons for the Metro Jets has been the two fans that sit at the far end of the bleachers during a handful of home games every year at Lakeland Arena.
Brothers Ethan, 7, and Wyatt, 5, have been coming to games since the 2008-09 season. Just after Wyatt learned to walk that fall, two of his first words were “Go Jets!”
During many games, the two will watch the games with a detailed focus, even knowing what color tape the players had on their sticks during any one game. In fact, to this day, Ethan remembers the green tape Brett Grech had on his stick for a stretch of the 2010-11 season.
The two boys take pride in picking out both teams’ captains and alternate captains and if any of the players are from any cities in Michigan they have heard of.
Game days are a treat. The boys arrive with their father right around game time, walk into the rink and greet Mary Kay Wolfe (wife of Jets’ GM Butch Wolfe) with a hug. They then take their seats at the aforementioned far end of the stands.
Then the fun begins.
One time this season, the boys started chatting with a man in the stands about, among other things, Grech’s stick tape, who the Jets’ captains are this season and how they were going to get Doug Andrews’ autograph after the game.
The man smiled. Turns out he was Andrews’ father.
During the intermissions, it’s a trip to the restroom and vending machine. The boys’ father has made it a tradition to eat a bag of Shock Tarts during each game. Ethan and Wyatt settle for bottled water and fruit snacks.
Back to the seats, where Mr. Andrews again gets an earful, but enjoys every word as evidenced by his genuine smile.
If the Jets are winning or losing, you’d never know because of Ethan and Wyatt’s neverending enthusiasm. When a player scores, the first thing they both check is the player’s name in the lineup sheet.
Ethan usually runs down to his father, standing in one of the corners of the rink, and tells him who scored. Then Wyatt will run down and do the same. Like brother, like brother.
The second intermission is another potty stop and a walk past the vending machines.
During the third period, it’s more youthful energy and a couple parents approach the boy’s father to let him know how well-behaved Ethan and Wyatt. Their father acknowledges gracefully and will later call his wife, at home with their two-year-old daughter, Madelyn, to let her know that they’ve done well.
After the game, the boys go wait outside the locker room while their father visits with the coaches and a couple players.
Doug Andrews comes out of the locker room and meets Ethan and Wyatt, who are star-struck. To them, these guys are bigger than NHL stars. Andrews asks the boys if they enjoyed the game and they nod affirmatively. They thank the second-year Jets’ forward and give high-fives and fist bumps.
Ethan and Wyatt also get to meet and get Metro captain Matt Stirling’s autograph. Again, the deer-in-the-headlights look comes across both of their faces (“That’s the ‘C’ captain,” exclaims Ethan).
Having had a complete night, it’s time to head home to Mom and Maddie.
Once home, the boys run into the house to show their newest autographs that will go alongside previous year’s memorabilia with the signatures of ex-Jets like Mike Corder, Morgan James, Justin Bennett, Steve Lockwood, John Baker, Cam Bazin and yes, even Grech.
No green tape, though.
Just memories that will last a lifetime for two boys enjoying a great brand of hockey not far from home.