By Randy Russon
The Metro Jets of the North American 3 Hockey League are a Detroit area team that, for years, has quietly gone about the business of developing players.
Since 1993, the Jets have helped develop close to 100 players who have subsequently moved up to play high-level, junior hockey at the North American Hockey League, Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League levels.
Of those 90-plus players, 15 Jet grads have advanced to the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks. And during that same time period, another 37 Jet alumni have made it to the Division 3, NCAA level.
Then there are those who got to the professional level including rugged defenceman Steven Oleksy, who went from the Jets to the NAHL (with the erstwhile Traverse City North Stars) to the Division 1, NCAA ranks (with the Lake Superior State Lakers) to the American Hockey League to recently making his National Hockey League debut with the Washington Capitals.
This season and last, the NA3HL Jets have been especially adept at developing goalies.
Two goalies from the 2011-2012 edition of the Jets have since moved up. 1994 birth year Dillon Kelley is in the NAHL with the Michigan Warriors and 1995 birth year Devin Williams made it to the OHL with the Erie Otters.
The OHL is also where 1996 birth year goalie Alex Nedeljkovic is. Nedeljkovic has put up sparkling numbers as an OHL rookie with the Plymouth Whalers after playing eight games in the NA3HL with the Jets earlier this season.
Currently, both goalies with the NA3HL Jets have 1995 birth dates.
Riley Corbin was sent to NA3 Metro from OHL Plymouth when the Whalers promoted Nedeljkovic. The Jets other 1995 birth year goalie is Trevor Kalinowski, a slender puckstopper whose name has been mentioned by more than one NAHL coach, manager and scout as a definite prospect.
Coaching-wise, the Jets are led by no-nonsense headmaster Jason Cirone.
The 42-year Cirone, who played 16 seasons of professional hockey, including six years in Italy, is a one-time National Hockey League draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets who was a goal-scoring machine during his major junior days in the OHL.
Playoffs included, over a four-year OHL career spanning 257 games with the Cornwall Royals and Windsor Spitfires, Cirone tallied a whopping 164 goals.
Cirone later played for Team Italy at the 2006 Winter Olympics as a 35-year old.
Considered to be a good teaching coach -- which is extremely important at the NA3 level -- Cirone seemingly looms as a credible candidate to be a head or assistant coach at the NAHL or OHL levels.
As a bonus, goalies who play for the NA3 Jets are in the exceptional hands of veteran goaltending consultant Randy Wilson.
Wilson, who is in his 13th season as a volunteer coach with the Jets, also spent six concurrent years as the goalie coach with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He has earned raves for his work with Spirit goalies past and present including Jake Paterson, a 1994 birth year netminder who was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round of the 2012 National Hockey League draft.
At any rate, these Metro Jets of the NA3HL certainly seem to be adhering to a mandate that strives to train and develop players with the aspirations of moving them on to higher-level junior leagues and beyond.
Really now, who can reasonably argue with the success rate of this NA3 team?