In the past few years, Milwaukee rookie forward Ryan Jones
has crafted a reputation as someone who can shoot fast and accurately under pressure.
In four seasons at Miami (Ohio) University, he scored 21 game-winning goals, the second-most in NCAA Division I history at the time.
Last season, while skating for Houston in the American Hockey League playoffs, his first professional goal -- 6:57 into the second overtime -- beat Rockford and ended the longest 1-0 game in AHL history.
So when he was in the NHL with Nashville earlier this season, the score he was trying to bag looked liked a gimme.
''I was really excited. The adrenaline was flowing, I was really shaking,'' Jones said. ''I was just thinking, I have to hit this thing. I was thinking, if I don't hit it, I'm not going to tell the boys.''
Jones' teammates never would have known about any misfire because he was alone at the time, on a deer stand in the woods outside Nashville. The score he was aiming for was the first doe or buck of his life. Jones wanted to give hunting a try, and Jason Arnott
took him out for a little easy training.
So Jones let fly with his bow at a doe hanging out at close range.
But much like he does jumping on a rebound in the crease, he let fly with a second shot that brought down the target.
''I don't want to sound too gruesome,'' Jones said, ''but I was definitely excited.''
Jones is into expanding his boundaries like that, though his hunting skills never got any more polished in Nashville this season. He obviously worked on other things, though, in his 46 NHL games, during which he contributed 7 goals and 10 assists.
When he rejoined Milwaukee at the end of its regular season, it was like the Admirals had Christmas in April. The team picked up a classic playoff good luck charm -- a 6-foot-2, 215-pound power forward who is a strong skater, can finish under playoff pressure and generally makes opponents wish they never climbed out of bed.
''Some guys have it, some guys don't," said Admirals coach Lane Lambert
. "It seems historically over his career he's been able to (come up big). We're fortunate to have him. He's a very prototypical playoff guy.''
Jones, 24, and his teammates were enjoying some extra time off last week after sweeping Rockford in four straight in a first-round rout. Jones had a goal and 2 assists, and he and his linemates, Mike Santorelli and Jed Ortmeyer
, combined for 10 points and a plus-12 rating in the series. Together, they embodied Lambert's desire of becoming a bunch that's tough to play against.
''(It's) somebody who dictates the situation,'' Jones said, offering his definition of that philosophy. ''I think of Detroit. They dictate the play all the time. They always have the puck. That's something that our line the last couple of games did really well. We're playing extremely well as a team. There's not a whole lot of pressure on individual players when a team is playing this well.''
Jones was right on target no matter where he played in the organization this season, producing 13 goals and 9 assists in 25 regular-season games for Milwaukee. Clearly the guy is adaptable. Several months ago he merely shrugged when the Wild decided it was no big deal to part ways with him.
Minnesota took him in the fourth round of the 2004 Entry Draft, but after an end-of-season trial with the Aeros last season, Minnesota shipped him and a 2009 second-round pick to Nashville in exchange for defenseman Marek Zidlicky
''It's funny,'' Jones said. ''I had a weird feeling that something was going on. The team was getting rid of a lot of guys. I knew they were going to be getting rid of some prospects and draft picks. You have to embrace the situation you are put in. I was happy to go to a team that wanted me.''
Lambert couldn't clear a spot in the lineup for him quickly enough. Jones is a big guy who can really move, but it wasn't always that way. He was motivated by criticism in college that he couldn't skate very well. Of course, that was a few summers of heavy weight training ago.
''You have to have important summers between the seasons,'' Jones said. ''You can't just go and do whatever you want.''
"Some guys have it, some guys don't. It seems historically over his career he's been able to (come up big). We're fortunate to have him. He's a very prototypical playoff guy."
-- Admirals coach Lane Lambert, on Ryan Jones
Then there's the whole chemistry variable, one Jones playfully mixes with care. Lambert simply sums him up as ''vibrant.''
''I love everything about hockey. When I get a chance to go to the rink, I get excited to go there,'' Jones said. ''There's a lot of joking going around in the locker room. I certainly do my part to let the goalies know when I score in practice. If you enjoy practices, you will get better more than if you are just dwelling on being there.''
As Jones appreciates from repeated experience, some skills develop only in the heat of games. He can't quite explain why he is often the biggest difference-maker on the ice. He only knows that a sign Predators coach Barry Trotz
hung in the locker room stuck with him, one that said that big moments create big-time players.
''The biggest thing is wanting to be in those situations, not being afraid to make mistakes,'' he said. ''It comes with ice time, a coach's confidence in you. I enjoy the pressure.''
That's a residue of the pursuit of challenges, whatever they may be. Someday, Jones figures he'll take another shot at landing a huge buck, preferably on the first try. Right now, he's getting into learning about exotic muscle cars and jokes about putting a Ferrari in his garage. When nudged to envision that scenario, though, he admits that sort of money would be better guided toward a couple of charities he's heavily involved with.
Jones' focus and interests shift like that, depending upon the situation.
His eventual aim, however, usually winds up right on the mark.
"Everybody's got a dream you shoot for someday,'' he said. ''If you don't have goals, you are just wandering around."