BOSTON -- As the top-ranked prospect among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting, defenseman Seth Jones was expected to be at the Stanley Cup Final meeting players, coaches and countless media in anticipation of the NHL Draft on June 30 in Newark, N.J.
The busy day in Boston, which culminated in Jones and three other top prospects attending Game 3 at TD Garden, is a welcome return to the Final for Jones, who attended last year's Cup-clinching Game 6 at Staples Center as the Los Angeles Kings won their first championship.
But his first trip to the Final came 12 years ago, when a six-year-old Jones attended Game 7 with his family in Colorado. The hometown Avalanche topped the New Jersey Devils 3-1 that night to clinch the franchise's second Stanley Cup, a historic hockey moment that set in motion the events that 12 years later would make Jones one of the top young prospects in the game.
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"I was six years old. I started playing hockey around that year," Jones said. "But once I saw that game, I knew I wanted to be a hockey player and I knew that one day I wanted to lift the Stanley Cup."
Jones' memorable Game 7 experience blazed a path for the young Texas native, who first discovered hockey when his father, longtime NBA player Popeye Jones, was playing for the Denver Nuggets, a club that shared its arena with the Avalanche.
While Popeye Jones was taking the court for the Nuggets, the Avalanche were fielding one of the most-talented clubs in NHL history. The 2001 Stanley Cup champions iced a roster full of future Hall of Famers. That group included longtime Colorado captain Joe Sakic, who as the team's current executive vice president of hockey operations is expected to call Jones' name when the Avalanche announce the No. 1 pick at the 2013 NHL Draft. If Colorado does select Jones, his coach will be Patrick Roy, the star goaltender he saw win the Conn Smythe trophy 12 years ago.
"It was pretty cool seeing Sakic and Roy and [Ray] Bourque," Jones said. "Especially Bourque, because he won his first one in 20 years."
As a member of the Denver sporting fraternity, the elder Jones was able to nab some prime seats for that Game 7. At the time, no one in the Jones family was all that familiar with the sport.
But the experience of witnessing the Avalanche celebrate their second Cup victory in five seasons left an indelible mark on young Seth -- an imprint that the rest of the hockey world is now feeling 12 years later.
"I was on the glass on the side, almost center ice. Thank dad for that one," Jones said. "The intensity, the speed of the game. It doesn't get much faster than Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was awesome to be there. The physical play, the looks on guys faces, the determination to win it all."