For the first time in their significant hockey lives, Montrose identical twin brothers, Connor and Kellen Jones, will start the season on different hockey teams.
Both Connor and Kellen Jones inked a deal with the New York Islanders’ affiliate Missouri Mavericks of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) late last month, and then were invited to try out for the Islanders’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Following training camp and two exhibition games, the Tigers coaching staff decided to retain the services of Connor, while assigning Kellen to Missouri.
“It’s a little bitter-sweet, obviously,” said Connor in an email to the Times. “I would love Kel to be here too, to share this opportunity, but it’s still exciting for the both of us. I think it’s a new challenge for us and we’re both looking forward to the season starting.”
With the NHL season set to hit the ice, the parent New York Islanders had been making cuts from its camp resulting in only a few spots remaining on Brideport’s roster. Connor, a centreman, filled a more pressing demand for the Tigers’ coaching staff than Kellen’s position on the wing.
“I think the morning when he (Kellen) got sent down, two wingers were sent down (to Bridgeport) from the Islanders so it helped that I’ve been playing center for a long time.”
The Jones brothers played most of their first year of professional hockey for the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate, Oklahoma City Barons, where Kellen netted 15 points in 49 games and Connor tallied 10 points in 41 games.
This past summer, they chose not to re-sign with an Oilers system already loaded with top draft picks including Connor McDavid, the first pick overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft.
“I’m excited to be part of a new staff, players, coaches, management, and getting the opportunity to show them what I can do,” said Connor. “I think it was like six years with the Oilers since Kelley was drafted in 2010 so it’s nice to get a fresh start.”
Tigers coach Brent Thompson was also impressed with both Connor and Kellen during the tryout and pre-season matches, telling the Connecticut Post, “The Jones brothers, to me, they’ve been great for us. They’ve opened a lot of eyes. They both brought a great element of work ethic and energy. You can see the skill.”
Kellen and Connor have spent their entire playing careers on the same line, on the same team. They have brought success to every team at every level, playing junior hockey with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks of the KIJHL, the BCHL’s RBC Cup winning Vernon Vipers, and four seasons at Quinnipiac University and an NCAA championship final appearance, before moving on to play professionally.
And while Connor and Kellen realized that playing professionally together might not be in the cards, the reality has been challenging in more ways than one.
“It’s always been a possibility, kind of crazy that we’ve been linemates for 12 years and we’ve never been on opposite teams,” said Connor. “It’ll take some getting used to, but I know we’re both capable of playing without one another, so we’ll definitely take the positives out of the situation.”
And the most pressing demand for the twins – “Difficult splitting up the clothes that we share,” joked Connor.
Connor’s time in Bridgeport will see a return to Connecticut, familiar territory for the Quinnipiac University graduate. He plays his first regular-season game with the Tigers when they open the AHL season Saturday against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
“I have high expectations for myself, think I always have. But being a second year pro I just want to contribute in any way that I can, whether it be offensively or defensively. With their expectations I’m not really sure, in the pre-season I played in pretty much every situation, so I’m hoping that carries its way into the year but I know I’ll have to work my way in and up the line up as well.”
Bridgeport plays in the Atlantic division of the AHL’s Eastern Conference and finished fifth last season with a 28-40-7 record.
The Mavericks play out of Independence, MO – nine miles from Kansas City and are owned by Lamar Hunt, Jr, son of late AFL founder, Kansas City Chiefs owner and MLS benefactor Lamar Hunt.
Kellen, a 2010 seventh round draft pick of the Oilers, will play his first game with the Mavericks in Anchorage, Alaska against the Alaska Aces on Monday.