By Matt Mackinder
The goal of each and every player in the North American 3 Hockey League is to develop to the extent where they’re ready to skate in the North American Hockey League or even college.
Flint Jr. Generals’ forward Jacob Howie recently signed a tender with the NAHL’s Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings for the 2013-14 season and feels that if he continues to put in the hard work and stay focused that moving up next year will be a mere formality.
“I was actually surprised when Kalamazoo offered me the tender,” said Howie. “I was practicing with them and after practice, they made me the offer. I was not expecting it, to be totally honest, but it was a relief to get that offer. I’d been working towards a tender since last season (when Howie played for the NA3HL’s now-defunct Chicago Hitmen), so it was really a year-and-a-half in the making.
“This season in Flint, coach (Steve) Howard keeps pushing us to play at the NAHL level and he has the knowledge to teach us and to get us there.”
Prior to the 2011-12 season, Howie played for the Summit Plastics midget team and then was drafted by Chicago, where he recorded 16 points in 45 games. When the Hitmen folded, Howie decided to come home to play for his hometown team.
“We’ve had some bumps in the road lately, but that’s part of the season and when you go through a rough stretch, I think it helps build character,” said Howie, an 18-year-old from Grand Blanc. “I think you’ll see us make a big push the second half.”
Through 21 games so far this year, Howie has put up 14 goals among 32 points, good for first on the Jr. Generals and in the top 15 in NA3HL scoring. He said his season with the Hitmen helped him get comfortable to the Junior A game and that his focus and retention of what he went through last year has helped his overall game in Flint.
“When I came into the NA3HL from Summit, it was a big adjustment because I went from being a top-line player to a middle-of-the-pack guy,” Howie explained. “It was hard to understand at first, but as the season went on, I figured it out. It’s a whole different mentality, but I think it’s helped me this season knowing that the NA3 is a lot faster than midgets.”
Being in Flint, a “very professional atmosphere,” according to Howie, has done wonders for his confidence and development.
“The one thing that our owners (Gale and Kelly Cronk) and coach Howard do that really stands out is that they treat us all with respect,” Howie said. “They treat us like adults and with just a few exceptions, that’s what we are. It’s really nice being treated like professionals by the Cronks and know that they do all they can to give us exposure and to push our names out there. They always have our futures in their best interest and you really couldn’t ask for more.”
“It’s such a world-class organization here in Flint.”
Still, with a tender secured for next season, Howie knows that doesn’t necessarily guarantee him a spot with the Jr. K-Wings.
“I can’t let the tender get to my head,” said Howie. “And really, that tender could have gone to any of the other 24 guys on this team because all these guys here in Flint have the skills to play in the NA. I just have to keep buckling down and keep grinding. This is why we play juniors – to advance and to get to college hockey. That’s what I’m shooting for and I know I can get to that level and who knows, maybe minor pro down the line.
“When I’m done playing, I’d love to get into coaching and stay involved in hockey. I’ve been playing this game for the past 15 years and it’s been my life. I want to see how far hockey can take me because it’s really all I’ve ever known.”