By Miles Regan / USPHL.com
Midwest East Division
Metro Jets Development Program (2) vs. Decatur Blaze (7)
All games at MJDP
Friday, March 3, 7 p.m. EST
Saturday, March 4, 12:45 p.m. EST
Sunday, March 5, 12:05 p.m. EST (if necessary)
There exists a decent amount of playoff history between these two teams. MJDP defeated Decatur 2-1 in the opening round a season ago while the Blaze got the best of the Jets in 2020, winning their second round series 2-0.
MJDP comes into their opening round series seeking their third straight trip to Nationals. The 2022-23 ‘DP took second in the Midwest East, finishing with 58 points, and many of their players are looking forward to their first playoff action.
“I know everyone’s excited, because for 95 percent of the team it’s their first year. Playoffs are always fun because they’re time for them to play competitive, intense, meaningful hockey. With the hybrid schedule use and showcases we attend we know we’ll be prepared.” says Metro Jets GM Justin Quenneville.
MJDP took all four regular season matchups between the teams, but Quenneville knows that the playoffs are a whole other animal.
“Nothing matters. We’ve only played them four times and feel we have some advantages, but if their goalie stands on his head it’ll be a test. They play a tight checking, physical zone so we’re going to need to take advantage of the scoring opportunities we’re able to create because there may not be a ton of them.”
When asked about who his team will rely on this postseason, Coach “Q” didn’t hesitate. It’s the returners.
“We’ll rely on a few players from last year’s Nationals team. We’ll need Josh Boze [‘03/Livonia, Mich.] for his defense and leadership. Up front, Ethan Smith [‘02/Port Huron, Mich.] and Nolan Bruxfoort [‘02/Grand Rapids, Mich.] are other guys we’re going to look at to help manage emotions and stay in check.”
The Jets’ DP will also continue to lean on goaltender Taylor White (‘03/Bay City, Mich.) in net. White has been fantastic throughout his rookie year and currently leads the entire Premier Conference with a .944 save percentage. MJDP went 9-2-1-2 in one goal games this season and feel that White’s consistency can keep them in any game. Their success will likely depend on their ability to convert on the looks they create against Decatur’s stingy defense.
Decatur enters this series a little more banged up than they’d like to be, according to Head Coach Zac Pearson. They won’t be traveling with their full roster, but Pearson still feels good about his group.
“They’re the best matchup of the top three seeds for us. We played them last in January and both games were 1-0 MJDP going into the third. Stylistically, this is our best chance.”
Pearson continued to praise the goaltending his team got against MJDP this season. Netminder Daniel Kreiner (‘02/Tel Aviv, Israel) made 61 saves against MJDP on Jan. 15, and will need to have a strong series if the Blaze want to advance. Blaze leading scorer Walker Smith (‘02/Castle Rock, Colo.) and defenseman Brendan Hirliman (‘03/Jamestown, N.Y. ) are other Decatur players Coach Pearson has high expectations for in this series.
“We need Walker Smith, who is coming off an injury, to be the best player on the ice. He can be and should be that. Daniel Kreiner needs to play well too, and he showed glimpses last weekend. If Hirliman logs big minutes and plays mistake-free, we’ll have a chance to make it a series.”