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Jones Eases Into Role

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
Seeing how comfortable Keith Jones is as a hockey television analyst, you figure it's likely that the Flyers' first-year television commentator has been comfortable on camera for a long time.

"Absolutely not," Jones replied with a chuckle. "I was a communications major (at Western Michigan University) until the point where I had to talk in front of a class. (Then) I said, `This major is not for me,' and I switched to sociology.

"I was completely uncomfortable in front of the class and even more uncomfortable in front of the camera. I absolutely choked."

It didn't take long for Jones to launch a TV career. Within a week of his retirement as a player in 2000, he was a studio analyst for ESPN's "NHL 2Night" show.

"The expectations were high, because I was a relatively good interview when I played," he said. "(But) I was not very good. I felt some of the same stuff when I was in college: I was sweaty and in a panic. When that camera light went on I'm thinking, `Oh, my God, I'm talking in front of this many (thousands of) people.' It's a very humbling experience when you get into something where, not only people's expectations but your own are much higher and it's not happening for you. It can be a little bit scary.

"But I knew I was getting a great opportunity to get good at something and, with time, it evolved into a very comfortable job for me."

Jones' experience at Comcast SportsNet helped him develop as a TV analyst.

"Working with Coatesy (Steve Coates), Al Morganti and Michael Barkann allowed me to get my feet wet without having to carry the show," Jones said. "They made it so comfortable that, all of a sudden, I started to become more of myself. When I first started, I was trying to be like a TV guy. That doesn't work."

On Mondays and Tuesdays during the NHL season, Jones also serves as a studio analyst for the Versus network. Bill Clement, another ex-Flyer, is the studio host in Stamford, Connecticut.

"Bill made it very comfortable for me," Jones said. "He has vast experience and he's a true professional. He's also a great team player, a guy that shares information with you. He tells you what you do right and what you should work on. I can take constructive criticism and try to (improve). I work with a great group of guys in Brian Engblom and Ed Olycyk."

The Versus work has helped Jones as the Flyers' TV analyst and vice versa.

"(With the Flyers) you're at the arena and you're feeling the full effect of what's happening on the ice," he said. "When you're watching seven or eight TVs at a time (at Versus), you don't catch as much stuff as you do when you are at the actual building concentrating on one game. You see the opposing team up close: that gives you an idea for when you're talking league-wide stuff."

Jones is a modern breed of player-turned-TV analyst who really understands the role. Some former players don't take time to study their new careers. They figure they'll just talk about the games and are slow to pick up on the many nuances of commentating. It takes most analysts time to learn to speak on the air while a producer is giving instructions in their earpiece.

"I'm a fan of listening to a broadcast where the play-by-play guy calls the play, and 95 percent of time you want to make sure he is calling the goals," Jones said. "As an analyst, you want to make sure you make your point quick and concise. If you see something that's looking like a goal developing, you want to get out (be quiet) and make sure that it's his voice on the goal call. It's much more comfortable for the fans who are listening to hear the play-by-play guy announce goals. Then you come in to explain why it happened.

"I'm fortunate to have Coatesy there with me to pick up anything that I might miss. It's great to have two people's perspective."

Jones and Coates work smoothly with veteran play-by-player Jim Jackson.

"It couldn't have worked out better as far as the chemistry goes," Jones said. Referring to Gary Dornhoefer, the Flyers' longtime TV analyst, Jones said, "I'm replacing somebody who was extremely popular. It's big shoes to fill. I'm pleased with the way the other two guys have allowed me to evolve into the position."

Jones has been reminded about the "Jones Jinx" from me and several others. The torment goes like this: "Yo, Jonesy, the Flyers weren't having all these problems when `Dorny' was in the TV booth.'"

"I've heard it especially from the guys I'm working with," Jones said laughing. "At the start of the season, when we were still unsure whether or not this team was going to be a playoff-type team, I took a lot of heat when the team got off to a bad start. What happened was very surprising to everybody."

While the Flyers' season has been disappointing, Jones is optimistic about the future.

"The misconception with the new NHL is, you can't have emotion in the game," he said. "You absolutely can. (Ben) Eager and (Denis) Gauthier have started to show that. What a difference it's made for everybody."
Jones doesn't think it will take long for the Flyers to become a playoff team again.

"I think it's extremely fixable," he said. "This team could quite easily go from last to first next year. The Flyers have a lot of money to spend.

"I don't think it's going to be uncommon to see a lot of teams (improve dramatically). You could see six or seven teams that don't make the playoffs this year be Cup contending teams next year. That's one nice thing about the salary cap and the free agency at a much younger age. You're going to have more players to sign as free agents. The young players that the Flyers have will be much more apt to develop with better players around them."

A Cup contender by next season? That may be too optimistic, but seeing the Flyers back in the playoffs would be a reward for the agony of this season.

Thumbs up on Forsberg trade

We won't know for a few seasons how good the trade that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville will be for the Flyers. But the first impression is, General Manager Paul Holmgren did an excellent job.

He acquired a player, Scottie Upshall, who is contributing immediately. Ryan Parent is a good prospect for the defense. Collecting a first- and third-round draft choices in this year's Entry Draft is a bonus in the deal.

The Flyers could even get Forsberg back, if he is healthy and resolves his skate-boot problem. Of course, Nashville is one of the NHL's best teams and he may want to finish his career with a team of that caliber, not with a team that may take a year or two to rebuild.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers'' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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