Jones, 24, spent his first season as a professional playing for the Florida Everblades of the ECHL and the Huntsville Havoc of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Both teams played in far-from-traditional hockey markets – Fort Myers, Florida, and Huntsville, Alabama – but both teams averaged more than 5,000 fans per game last year.
“Both places loved hockey,” Jones told me. “There was a lot of supporting boosters and a lot of good fans.”
Jones grew up playing minor hockey in Revelstoke before making the Grizzlies, then the Merritt Centennials of the BC Junior Hockey League. After putting up a point per game in his final season, he received a scholarship to Robert Morris University, a Division 1 NCAA team. There, he put up 63 points in 129 games.
His efforts attracted the attention of the Everblades, who invited him to training camp. Jones made the team, but he was a frequent healthy scratch and didn’t record a point in 15 games.
“I was in and out of the lineup, a healthy scratch because I was a first year and there was a lot of veteran guys,” he said. “We had a very good team and a lot of older players got the ice time. Being a younger rookie I had to pay my dues and I ended up not playing much.”
Jones said transitioning to professional hockey wasn’t “too big of an adjustment,” but added the overall skill level was higher and the systems were cleaner.
“Pro was a little bit cleaner, not as sloppy, a lot better system wise, a lot better execution on plays, not many missed passes. It was another level,” he said. “For the most part (the ECHL is) all ex college players and major junior guys from the CHL. I just found the skill level, the level of play a lot better than the majority of college players.”
In mid March, he was sent down to the Huntsville Havoc of the SPHL where he shined, scoring five goals and picking up two assists in eight games.
Jones spent the off-season in Revelstoke, working at the mill for a few months before quitting to focus on training for the upcoming hockey season. He skated with the Grizzlies and worked on his quickness and cardio. He’s also started stretching more and doing yoga to help his body recover.
His performance in Huntsville got him an invite back to the team for this year, but first he’s trying to make the ECHL a second time. When I spoke to him, he had just finished fitness testing at the training camp of the Indy Fuel, the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jones said it’s his goal to play in the ECHL this year. “If I have to go down to Huntsville, I’m OK with that, but I’m hoping to finish the year in the East Cost,” he said.
Ultimately, he hopes to move up to the American Hockey League, which is one rung below the NHL.
“If that doesn’t work out, I’ve considered going over to Europe to play some hockey over there and see some different countries and have some more experiences through hockey,” he said.
“As long as I’m able to play and make enough money to live off of, I’ll keep playing,” he added.