|Tommy Wingels and Ryan Jones played together at Miami University (of Ohio) in 2007-08. |
- As far as San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels was concerned several seasons ago, a former teammate with the Miami University RedHawks was a lock to make it big.
"There are certain guys who have an impact every night," he said. "Ryan Jones was that guy."
Jones, 23 at the time, was the captain and leading scorer of the RedHawks during the 2007-08 campaign. In addition to putting up 31 goals, 49 points in only 42 games, Jones was a mentor who embodied the program's sacred slogan, ‘The Brotherhood.'
"There's such a big focus on coming together and growing up as individuals," said Wingels, who was making his Central Collegiate Hockey Association (NCAA) debut that season. "Ryan was vocal when he needed to be but, more often than not, he was a guy that led by example. Just look at how hard he goes in practice and in games -- he really sets the tone, day-in and day-out.
"Still, if something needed to be said, he'd say it. He was all the qualities you want in a leader. Best of all, he has the ability to do them all at once. I can honestly say that he helped steer my career in the right direction and was a huge help in getting me to this point.
"He's a ‘brother' of mine, no question."
In 265 career NHL games, Jones has collected 50 goals and 88 points. Most importantly, he's developed a well-rounded role as a physical menace that contributes equally, if not more, on special teams.
None of it is surprising to Wingels.
"It doesn't matter if he was scoring or not," he said. "Regardless of the situation, whatever was needed at any point in the season, he'd bring it. You always knew what you were going to get with Jonesy. As soon as the puck was dropped he'd be banging bodies, forechecking hard and grinding the other team down.
"That's something a lot of guys looked up to him for. There was no question about it. Everyone knew he was the leader of that team.
"Ryan and I spent some together this summer back in Miami, which was a blast. We love going back there and we both credit the program for doing so much in our careers and getting us both to the NHL."
Jones' collegiate career came to an end after the 2007-08 season; he went on to pursue his dream with the Nashville Predators That summer, Wingels was drafted in the sixth round (177th overall) by the Sharks and went on to play an another two seasons in Miami, capturing the CCHA's Best Defensive Forward award in 2009-10.
"It was an unbelievable experience," said Wingels. "The program they have there is exceptional in terms of producing guys at the next level (some notable graduates include: Brian Savage, Alec Martinez and Wingels' Sharks teammate, Dan Boyle), as well as getting a good college experience. Truthfully, it was the best three years of my life so far. I built lasting relationships with some great people, I learned how to grow as an individual and was given a path to a career in the NHL.
"I couldn't ask for anything more."
Wingels is now in his first full NHL season after splitting time with the Sharks and the club's AHL affiliate in Worcester since 2010. In 22 games this year, the 24-year-old has picked up a goal and six points.
As if the ultra-tight Western Conference playoff race wasn't enough, bragging rights are also on the line Wednesday night as brothers become enemies.
For one night, at least.
"It's fun seeing familiar faces. I want to show him how much I've learned," laughed Wingels. "I try to follow Ryan's progress as much as possible to see how he and the Oilers are doing. It's going to be a lot of fun. We're going to have a good, healthy battle out there."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick