ABBOTSFORD, BC — If you are a die-hard Calgary Flames fans or even a die hard Vancouver Canuck fan, you might know Jason Jaffray by name.
But can you really say you know much about the career of this veteran professional hockey player?
Jaffray is a long time AHL hockey player that is fighting all odds to make it to the big show. He is yet to secure a full-time spot with an NHL team and knows that time is not on his side. As he looks towards his 29th birthday this June, he says he knows he is so close and just hoping that the jump into the big league is still in reach and not far away.
The 28-year-old from Rimbey, Alberta, began his professional hockey career with the Roanoke Express of the ECHL as an undrafted player after a five-year WHL career. He appeared in a handful of AHL games with the Norfolk Admirals and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before signing a tryout contract in 2004 with the San Jose farm club, the Cleveland Barons. Jaffray says that was one of the best teams to plat for and one of the best experiences of his career so far.
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“When I was in Cleveland it was my first real chance at playing in the AHL on the top couple of lines,” explained Jaffray. “We were one of the worst teams in the league but if you look at that team back then, it’s pretty much the San Jose Sharks team today. I played on a line with Marcel Goc and Ryan Clowe at the time. They were a really young team then and they’ve all matured into really good NHL players now.”
After a short stint with Cleveland, the Manitoba Moose caught wind of him and offered him a tryout contract with the Vancouver Canucks affiliate. He led the Moose in scoring the following year posting 81 points in 77 games. Jaffray’s successful AHL season earned him a contract with the Vancouver Canucks for the 2007 season. He posted his first NHL goal in his very first call up game with the Canucks and had appeared in 19 NHL games that season.
That brings us up to the 2008-2009 season. Jaffray continued with the Moose, looking for that leap at securing a spot on the Canucks roster and although he posted 49 points for the Moose in 56 games, he was still only used sparingly by the big club.
Last summer Jaffray participated in the Calgary Flames training camp wondering if perhaps another change of scenery would be the key to NHL success.
“One of the most exciting parts of my career is when I made the Flames right out of camp,” Jaffray grinned. “(Head coach Brent) Sutter pulled me into his office and told me I made the team right out of camp. It was an exciting time. I thought maybe I’d made the jump and was going to get some games in.”
Unfortunately for Jaffray, things happen in hockey that you don’t really expect. Calgary traded for defenceman Aaron Johnson and activated the injured Brian McGrattan resulting in Jaffary being assigned to the Flames top AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
“I lost my roster spot and I ended up back in Abbotsford on the day that I got my first NHL game in with them,” said Jaffray. “They told me right after the game that I was going down. It was a little discouraging but it does seem like I’m very close and I’ll get there soon enough.”
It’s fair to say that Jaffray is considered to be one of the top veterans in the Abbotsford dressing room. He has helped the young Heat team to the Calder Cup playoffs by scoring 25 goals and totaling 54 points in 72 games and finished with a plus- 24 rating. He was also announced to the AHL all-star team.
“I’m used to an older team in Manitoba,” admit Jaffray. “You really have that veteran presence in the room and then you come to a new organization where there are a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies. I’ve been looked at as one of the older guys in the room.
“It’s pretty exciting to see the look on the young guys faces. They bring a lot of energy to the room. It’s those guys first taste at pro hockey and you just have to hope that they excel as they are all working for contracts next year.”
Jaff's has a really good disposition. He is a zero-maintenance player. He doesn't complain and tell me what's going on in Calgary that he should be up there to fix."
- Abbotsford Head Coach Jim Playfair.
Jaffray says that he’ll keep chasing his dream of being in the NHL full-time and will do everything he can to get there. He says he’ll be training all summer in Calgary with a focus on foot-speed.
“Overall I think I’ve had a successful year. I think that down here in Abbotsford I’ve performed well and put up some good points. I’ve been playing centre which I have never played so my defensive game has improved a lot. I just have to train hard in off-season, that’s all I can really do.”
Author: Kristi Hennessy