The Predators 2008-09 season-opener in St. Louis will forever stay in the mind of rookie forward Ryan Jones. It was that day in early October that Jones took the ice for the first time as a professional athlete in the National Hockey League.
“Going into the game I was trying to keep myself calm and not overly excited,” Jones said. “Coach Trotz said I had a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look. Every time I touched the puck it took me a couple seconds to react. I was just taking everything in. I guess that’s the way everybody reacts in their first NHL game so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was just amazing, fun and exciting – everything all bunched into one.”
While Jones did not play again until the team’s fourth game of the season, his second outing was a memorable one as well.
“I scored my first goal in my second NHL game against Dallas so that was pretty cool. I was with Rich Peverley and we were behind the net scrumming for the puck and it popped over the corner of the net right into the slot. Marty Turco went to pounce down on it and I just got a stick on it and shoved it between his legs. It’s funny, I have a picture of it – my face is priceless. I’m so excited and you can tell Pevs is really excited for me too because he was in the same situation the year before.”
A native of Chatham, Ont., Jones played two years of junior hockey for his hometown team in the Ontario Hockey Association before arriving in Oxford, Ohio to play for the Miami University RedHawks – a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. While at school, Jones found great success as he amassed 147 points (90g-57a) in 161 collegiate games – never missing a contest in his four-year career from 2004-08. His 90 goals rank second on Miami’s all-time goal-scoring list and his 21 game-winning goals is tied for second on the NCAA Division I all-time game-winning goals list. He was a West All-America First-Team selection and one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as a senior in 2007-08 after posting 49 points in 42 games. But even with all his accomplishments in college, Jones acknowledges his time at Miami is not the same as the NHL.
“There’s a big difference,” he said. “Obviously the guys in the NHL are a lot bigger and stronger and the game is more positional. The way I always describe college hockey to people is that it’s just controlled chaos. Everybody is all over the place. They tend to be smaller guys so they’re very quick. Everybody’s trying to generate scoring chances.”
“Here in the NHL, everything is so positional – whenever you get the puck, there’s somebody on you. It’s more instinctual than the college game, so it’s been a pretty big transition. You can’t think the game through too much here and I think that’s the one thing I struggled with a little bit and was why I was sent down to Milwaukee – just to get my instincts going and not to think things through.”
That was not the only time Jones has been sent down to Milwaukee this season. The 24 year old would play two more stints with the Admirals before being called back up on Jan. 26 for what has been his longest stint with the Predators. He enjoyed the time spent in Wisconsin, but like any other player trying to make it big, Jones would rather stay in Nashville.
“Milwaukee has a really good team and a great group of guys,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t overly excited about going down after starting off in the NHL, but the guys down there and the coaches made the transition real easy. They’re winning and having a good time and enjoying each other. It’s just different than it is here because everybody’s so young. Everybody’s in the same position – trying to work their way to the NHL. I had an idea it was going to be an up-and-down kind of year so I was trying not to get too emotionally high or low and stay at one level. It takes its toll when you go up and down so many times.”
It looks like Jones has secured a spot in the Predators roster for the time being. A fourth round pick, 111th overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, Jones and a second-round pick in the 2009 Draft were traded to Nashville for defenseman Marek Zidlicky on July 1, 2008. When he found out he made the team before the season started, Jones was sure to thank those who were instrumental in his trek to the top.
“You think back and there’s a lot of people that you owe for where you are right now, especially my family and all the sacrifices that they’ve made – my father in particular who spent a lot of money and a lot of his off time to get me here. He was actually the first person I called when I found out that I made the team. It was a pretty special moment to be able to tell him.”
A special moment indeed. Welcome to the NHL, Ryan Jones.