He quickly went from wearing a white goalie glove on his left hand to a brown infielder’s glove.
Petoskey’s Dillon Kelley returned home from a winter stint in Clarkston Wednesday where the senior goaltender played his first full season in the North American 3 Hockey League as a member of the Metro Jets.
Just hours after getting back to Petoskey that same day, Kelley found himself back on the diamond at Turcott Field, where he’ll be an infielder/pitcher for the Northmen baseball team.
“It’s nice to be back,” Kelley said. “It’s good for the body to get away from hockey for a little bit. I wasn’t ready for the season to be done, but it’s good for my body and mind to try to get away a little bit and be able to play some baseball.”
Kelley is coming off a strong rookie season with the Jets, who are based in Waterford and play out of Lakeland Arena. He appeared in 31 games, finishing with an 18-8-1 record while posting three shutouts. He surrendered 101 goals and finished with a 3.62 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage.
Kelley, who stands an imposing 6-foot-4 and is a sturdy 216 pounds, took over as the starting goaltender just after Christmas and remained in the top spot through the rest of the season. The Jets’ season ended last weekend with a loss to the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks in best-of-three playoff series.
Last season, Kelley was the goaltender for the Petoskey High School hockey team, which plays 24 regular-season games.
The Jets played 48 games and finished with a 29-17-1-1 record, good for third place in the NA3HL Eastern Conference standings.
“On the hockey side, it was a pretty big jump and it took some getting used to,” Kelley said. “Just the speed of the game and playing and being around older kids. Some of these guys were 21 years old, so getting used to being around guys much older than you, and the shots were much harder, guys were stronger and shots were a lot more accurate.”
Kelley, who in early February earned the league’s first star of the week after recording back-to-back shutouts over the Michigan Mountain Cats, also said on-ice awareness is much quicker at the junior level.
“You have to be twice as aware when you’re in net because these guys can move the puck really fast,” he said. “If you’re not paying attention, it’s in the back of the net before you even know it.”
Playing downstate, Kelley moved to Clarkston with his mother, Kay, and lived in an apartment before moving to a house later in the season. He attended Clarkston High School, the third-largest in the state with more than 2,700 students. Petoskey, by comparison, has just under 1,000.
“Going to another school, it was pretty much the direct opposite of Petoskey,” Kelley said. “It was bigger and there were a lot of kids, probably about 1,600 kids in grades sophomore through senior. The first day I got lost, but I figured my way out.
“It was a good experience, I really liked it.”
Kelley started the season as a backup, but quickly found himself in goal in just the second game of the season.
“I was the backup behind a kid who got drafted that previous summer into the OHL (Ontario Hockey League),” Kelley said. “My debut was against the best team in the league, the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks who won 20 of their first 21 games. I gave up 10 goals, it was rough and I played about four games of our first 20.”
Kelley said that about three weeks before Christmas, he entered some games after the Jets’ No. 1 goalie, Devin Williams started to struggle.
“He (Williams) got pulled a few times and I came in and shut the door for him and gradually worked my way back into it,” Kelley said. “Right around Christmas time, we were rotating and I was starting to play more the bulk of the games and after Christmas, I was the starter.”
From after the Christmas break, Kelley played in all but one of the Jets’ games.
“I’ve always been the kind of guys who likes the work load,” Kelley said. “I like playing and I don’t like sitting on the bench. I don’t like it when a coach says we’re going to rest you or not play you this game. I like having the work load on my shoulders.”
Kelley said he was the youngest player on the team — which included several 21-year-olds — but felt like part of the team right away.
“Being a rookie, I got my share of hazing, but being a goalie I didn’t get it as much as the other rookies,” Kelley said. “The guys welcomed me and I felt like a part of the team right after the first couple of weeks.
“It was probably the tightest group of kids I’ve every played with. It was a pretty tight-knit group.”
Kelley is not sure what the future entails for him. He is eligible to return to the Jets next season, but many players look to make the jump up to a NAHL (Tier I), USHL (United States Hockey League) and/or eventually the NCAA or American College Hockey Association (ACHA).
“My plans aren’t set in stone yet,” Kelley said. “We’ll see what happens this summer with a couple of different drafts. I have to talk things over with my parents and my family advisor and we’ll see what path is the best path for me.”
Kelley said if it weren’t for his former Petoskey High School coach, Rene Chapdelaine, and assistant coach Bill DeLyon, he probably wouldn’t be where he is today. Kelley played for Chapdelaine his sophomore year and then last year for Craig Coxe.
“I probably wouldn’t even be on (the Jets) if it wasn’t for Rene Chapdelaine or Bill DeLyon,” Kelley said. “I owe them both a lot of credit.”