After inheriting a team that won all of 11 games last year, Motor City Metal Jackets head coach David Cole had his work cut out for him in the offseason.
His arduous efforts - through September, anyways - have seemingly paid off.
The Metal Jackets, who play out of the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, Mich., are out of the gates with a formidable 3-0-2 record, picking up eight out of a possible 10 points as they enter the heart of their North Division schedule.
This weekend, they welcome the Marquette Rangers to town for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday.
“I’m happy with our start; it’s very important for our franchise,” said Cole. “To not have any blemishes in the loss column at this point is encouraging, and we certainly feel we can build on all the positives.”
The Metal Jackets’ success begins between the pipes, where Randy Willis, a 20-year-old from Fond du Lac, Wis., has won two of his four starts - both shutouts - with Hermosa Beach, Calif.-bred Jason Torf, 18, picking up the other victory allowing only one goal against.
“Our goaltending has been very solid up this point and has been the backbone of our success so far,” said Cole.
Offensively, veteran Patrick Sullivan is fitting in nicely in his new surroundings. After spending last season with the Kenai River Brown Bears, the 19-year-old from Darby, N.Y., has three goals and an assist to start his season.
First-year players Steve Brancheau, a 19-year-old from River Rouge, Mich., and Hudson, Fla., native John Scorcia, 19, have also impressed. Brancheau has seven points on two goals; Scorcia six on three tallies.
“Those two have been pleasant surprises,” said Cole.
So, too, has the response from the local community, where the Metal Jackets continue to build winning relationships off the ice.
“It’s been extremely encouraging to experience the positive support from Wyandotte and the Down River communities of Detroit,” said Metal Jackets owner Kenji Yamada. “We’re confident, as we continue to build our organization, we’ll continue to provide quality, affordable entertainment.”
The Rangers make their way to town with some swagger of their own, coming off a two-game sweep over Fairbanks last weekend after a 3-1 record at the NAHL Showcase Tournament.
“The North Division is going to be very competitive, and Marquette is a very good hockey team that will be a very big test for us,” said Cole. “The games should be a measuring stick for where we are this early in this season.”
And the Rangers will welcome back a familiar face this weekend in forward Josh Bussell.
After being traded to Motor City in October of 2008, Bussell, who played in last season’s Sherwood NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, began this season with the Texas Tornado before returning to Marquette.
“We’re excited to have Josh back,” Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said. “He always played well in (Marquette’s) Lakeview (Arena), is a bit of a crowd favorite, and can do a lot offensively when given the chance.”
Bussell, 20, was the Rangers’ second-leading scorer during his rookie season in 2007-08 with 44 points on 22 goals. He was leading the team in scoring last season when he was dealt to Motor City.
Bussell also spent time last year with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.
“We’re confident he’ll once again be a strong presence in our division,” Miller added.
In other NAHL action this weekend, Fairbanks visits the Alpena IceDiggers for a pair of games, with Kenai River facing off against the Wenatchee Wild for three games.
The Bismarck Bobcats are in Alaska to take on the Avalanche for three games, with the Janesville Jets visiting the Springfield Jr. Blues also for a three-game set.
The Texas Tornado will head to Topeka for two games against the RoadRunners, and the St. Louis Bandits will visit the Wichita Falls Wildcats for a pair.
The Alexandria Blizzard visits the North Iowa Outlaws on Friday and the Albert Lea Thunder on Saturday. The Owatonna Express heads to North Iowa for a game on Saturday.