FRASER, Mich. – Quietly, Matt Cruz has been one of the Metro Jets’ top defensemen the past couple years.
The Jets are banking on the 2000 birth year from New Baltimore, Mich., on keeping that trend heading upward after Cruz recently signed for his final season of junior hockey eligibility in 2020-21.
“The thought process for me coming back was very easy,” Cruz said. “Over the two seasons I’ve been with the Jets, I’ve developed so much as a hockey player and even more as just a person. That made it easy for me to come back for Year 3.
“Every day you come to the rink, it’s never like it was the day before. We do new things every day such as new drills, new workouts and just new experiences in general. There are never normal days here at the rink.”
Cruz has the potential to be one of the USPHL’s most solid blueliners, according to Metro coach-GM Justin Quenneville.
“Bringing back a guy like ‘Cruzy’ is huge for our club,” said Quenneville. “He’s a proven leader and high-end player for the organization, but we are more excited to help him continue to be exposed to colleges and go through that process of deciding which NCAA program is the best fit for him.
“He is a dynamic, offensive defenseman which is evident, but his game away from the puck was what made him such a consistent player last year and a big reason for the team’s continued success. I don’t see that being any different this upcoming season for him as he will be leaned on for his experience and leadership."
As a rookie in 2018-19, Cruz posted nine goals and 18 points in 42 games before adding two assists in seven playoff games. Last season, he boosted those totals with 12 goals among 26 points in 44 games and one assist in a trio of games in the playoffs.
“In my second year of playing with the Jets, I felt I improved on a lot of different aspects of my game,” said Cruz. “The things I focused the most on throughout the season were my aggressive nature and intensity during games and even during everyday practices. In a different part of my game, the people I played with made it really easy for me to get points throughout the season, especially my ‘D’ partners Jesper (Svadang) and earlier in the season with ‘Songer’ (Justin Song).”
“Now as a third-year guy, I’m most looking forward to developing a leadership role with this team. Throughout my years, I’ve had tremendous leaders, so if I just follow in their footsteps and maybe mix in some changes here and there to make it my own, I should have great success all due to them.”
Looking back on last season when the USPHL National Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, Cruz has one last chance to get back to Boston for the third straight year.
“What happened last season was heartbreaking to say the least,” Cruz said. “Having nationals taken away from us was something I never could’ve imagined. Due to that, I am very excited to get back into the swing of things this season and I am very hungry to get back into the big dance come March.
“This summer, I’ve just been staying busy with landscaping and working out wherever I can. Definitely not the offseason I imagined I would be having, but I will be more than prepared for this next season.”