The Edmonton Oilers arrived in the wee hours of the morning in a snow covered, frigid location which looked like home but in fact was St.Paul, Minnesota. It could have easily have been Edmonton but the Alberta capital is getting warmer temperatures than the Minnesota capital. For Ryan Jones this is like home because after he's done spending his winters in Edmonton he spends his summers in the Saint Paul area.
Last winter was different because of the lockout. After months of waiting for an end to the NHL work stoppage, Ryan Jones headed for his home in the off season. While trying to stay in shape he took a puck in the eye on New Years Eve day and he spent his final hours of 2012 in a hospital. Not long after that the game would come back but Jones vision wouldn't -- or at least it didn't right away. A career hung in the balance and so did the quality of life for one of the more popular Oilers.
It was something that crossed my mind Tuesday night when Ryan Jones took on Dallas' Brenden Dillon. Dillon, a bigger opponent, but that was also the case in Jones' first fight of the year against LA's Kyle Clifford. A year ago, Jones couldn't see clearly out of one eye and now he's putting himself in danger of more damage. A gutsy move for a player that's full of hustle and muscle and the swashbuckling hair style to go with it. When he and his hair are flying around then Ryan Jones is doing his job.
Tough to do that when you can't see the way you're supposed to. If you're an accountant, the numbers look a little blurry. If you're a teacher you can't make out every word you see on the English test you're marking. Not easy or enjoyable but still doable. If you're an NHL player, if you can't see you can't work. Bryan Berard is an unfortunate example of that. Try as he might to recover from the loss of vision after a Marian Hossa high stick, the former first-overall pick had to pack it in prematurely. At the moment it happened, Ryan Jones had to be thinking the same thing. Praying for the best but unsure if the puck that hit him in the eye would bring about the worst.
It hasn't been a simple road to recovery for Ryan. His lockout-shortened season was even shorter because of the eye issues. He only played in 27 games and had just two goals. This after he was coming off 17 and 18 goal seasons. It may not have been easy for Ryan to see but others could see this wasn't the same Jones. He admitted it himself as much as he wanted to be the player the team and its fans had become accustomed to, it was easier said than done.
This season started in the minors. It was upon his return to Edmonton that he started to find his game and his belief in himself and his eye. Back he went to his simple, straightforward and effective style. Banging, crashing and -- if necessary -- fighting. A vision of what he used to be and is once again for the Edmonton Oilers.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers