By Miles Regan / USPHLPremier.com
Midwest East Division
Metro Jets Development Program (No. 2) vs. Motor City Gamblers (3)
All games at Mount Clemens Ice Arena
Game 1: Fri., March 10, 5:00 p.m. EST
Game 2: Sat., March 11, 12:45 p.m. EST
Game 3: Sun., March 12, 12:30 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Battle for Detroit takes center stage with a USPHL Nationals berth on the line. The heated rivals played six of the most entertaining Midwest East division games this season and are set to meet in the playoffs for the very first time this weekend. You aren’t going to want to miss this series.
MJDP enters the second round fresh off of a two-game sweep of the No. 7 seed Decatur. The Jets offense had their best two games of the season during that series, and associate head coach Jamie Lovell says his group is feeling good heading into this weekend.
“Obviously we’re confident, we put up a lot of goals, but we don’t want to look past (Motor City.) We’re confident but know we have work ahead of us.”
It’s no wonder that MJDP are feeling confident given their postseason pedigree. The Development Program has qualified for Nationals in each of the last three seasons, but this year’s playoffs present a new challenge: they have to get through their Northern Suburbs neighbors.
MJDP dropped their regular season series with Motor City for the first time this year, winning just two of their six matchups. The Gamblers often got the best of the MJDP in 2022-23.
“You’re always going to have a nemesis-type team. This year, the thorn in ‘DP’s side was Motor City. They had our number. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Lovell added.
MJDP’s offense will likely lean on winger Jacob Lawrence (‘04/Washington, Mich.) and centerman Jordan Rivera (‘02/Macomb, Mich.]) to serve as catalysts against Motor City. The two are currently tied for second in all of Premier in playoff scoring with eight points apiece. Quite impressive for a pair of rookies seeing their first postseason action.
Lawrence and Rivera will get theirs, but with the game on the line the Jets will probably look to returner Nolan Bruxfoort (‘02/Grand Rapids, Mich.) to be “that guy.” Bruxfoort is one of six MJDP skaters who dressed during Nationals a season ago, and he’s got a knack for big goals.
The 6’1” forward was MJDP’s playoff hero a season ago, scoring the winning goal in Game 3 of the second round to send the Jets to Nationals. Coach Lovell believes the leadership of Bruxfoort, in addition to solid defense and fundamentals, will be the keys this weekend.
“This team has been very strong defensively. Goaltending is also a strong point for us and has been in the past. We’re gonna hopefully rely on those guys with experience at Nationals to help us in addition to relying on our habits to push forward.”
MJDP goaltender Taylor White posted the league’s best regular season save percentage at .944 and was a top five goaltender in GAA (1.64). Together with Austin Muirhead and Andrew Parmentier, the team save percentage was .935.
Motor City’s 2-0 sweep of 6-seed Battle Creek was their first playoff series victory since 2018-19, the last season in which they qualified for Nationals. They’ve now won 13 straight games and are arguably the hottest team in the league. Here’s associate coach Jason McCrimmon on the mood in Motown:
“(We’re) feeling good, excited about the next task and getting prepared for our next series.”
That next series comes against a squad the Gamblers know very well in MJDP. The two teams are separated by just 7.3 miles and they played six competitive, entertaining games against each other in the regular season. Motor City won the regular season series 4-2 and has taken four straight against the Jets, but McCrimmon and Co. know not to take their neighbors lightly.
“They’re a really good program. We’re excited to go through the process. If we continue to do what we did during the regular season we’ll be perfectly fine.”
In order to continue their regular season success, the Gamblers will need a great series from defensemen Aidan Canady (‘03/Schaumburg, Ill.) and Jake Mullins (‘03/Clawson, Mich.)
The pair combined for 130 points in the regular season, 10 of which came against MJDP. Goaltender Robert Allport [‘03/Fitchburg, Wis.] was also great versus the Jets this year as one of his best games came in the form of a 39-save shutout of MJDP on Dec. 4.
Allport played well and got his first postseason win against Battle Creek on March 2, but rookie forward Brian Bell [‘03/Macomb, Mich.] was the Gamblers’ real high roller. Bell, fresh off a Midwest East Players of the Month nod in February, recorded six (3-3–6) points during the series and has now tallied a point in six consecutive games.
McCrimmon called Bell’s play against Battle Creek “huge,” and also credited the rest of Motor City’s staff for having the Gamblers ready.
“They did a great job weathering the storm. Coaching staff did a great job preparing our team to get through the first round, too.”
The Gamblers will make their first trip up Groesbeck highway on Friday evening for a
5pm puck drop at Mount Clemens Ice Arena.