Pro hockey on horizon for Jones brothers

Connor and Kellen Jones to play in the Young Stars tournament in Penticton

Montrose natives Connor and Kellen Jones wrapped up another successful Champions Hockey School on Saturday at the Cominco Arena, and for the first time in four years, the twins won’t be returning  to their own school, but will be taking yet another major step in their hockey careers.

Following two RBC Cup wins with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, Kellen and Connor brought unprecedented success to Quinnipiac Unversity helping the Bobcats to its first NCAA championship final appearance in 2013, a National number-one ranking, and, in their Senior year, the twins received dual nominations for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award this past April.

The 24-year-old former Beaver Valley Nitehawk forwards now embark on their professional hockey careers starting with the rookie camp at the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Classic next month, and eventually the Edmonton Oilers main camp.

“Depending on how we do, I think we’ll head to the main camp, and then if we do well we stay there and if we don’t we’ll go down to OKC, (Oklahoma City Barons),” said Connor.

In 2010 Kellen was drafted in the seventh round of the NHL draft by the Oilers, and the prospect of playing in the NHL is foremost in their minds, however, not returning to Quinnipiac University this season to play for the Bobcats is a little unsettling.

“It’s going to be weird,” said Kellen. “I was talking with Travis St. Denis, and Scott Davidson and Craig Martin and how excited they are to go there. It’s pretty cool, it’s been a great place, it was great to us. The whole entire school and hockey team, the community was great to us, it was a great place to be and we were lucky to go there.”

Former Trail Smoke Eater, St. Denis, and fellow RBC Cup winner with Penticton, returns to Quinnipiac for his Junior year, after having a break out year last year, scoring 15 goals and adding 13 assists in 40 games, while current Smoke Eaters Davidson and Martin have committed for 2015, continuing a legacy of recruiting started by the Jones’.

“We’ve done really well recruiting in this area and this province, and when we got Connor and Kellen . . . we really formed a relationship with Terry and Loretta, and now that’s kind of built a bit of a pipeline here,” said Quinnipiac assistant coach and former NHLer Reid Cashman, who was also in Trail to instruct at the hockey school.

Cashman is looking forward to the new crop of Trail skaters, but, he recognizes that the contribution from the Jones twins will be missed.

“We’ve talked about that a lot, life after Connor and Kellen,” said Cashman. “They did so much for our program. As great as they were on the ice, they’ve completely redefined our culture in the locker room and off the ice. They have changed our program for the better, there’s no question, so we were very fortunate to have them four years, and the mark they left is going to last much longer.”

As for the upcoming year, Connor and Kellen signed player contracts for 2014-15 with the Oilers affiliate, Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League, and skated in five games with the team at the end of last season.

“It was great to get a taste of things,” said Kellen. “Know what it’s like, know what they expect, and to know what the type of game is. It’s a lot different from college. It was a big jump, different systems, but it was just nice to play in a few games and get some experience before camp starts.”

After spending three weeks earlier this summer working out and training in Edmonton with many of the current Oilers, the twins head to Penticton next month where they will play in the Young Stars tournament with prospects from the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets facing off from Sept. 12-15, before hitting the main camp.

Ideally, Connor and Kellen would prefer to stick around with the NHL team, but realize that, having signed with the Barons, the pair will likely call Oklahoma City home for the 2015-16 season.

“It’s going to be a new place, with new players and new coaches, but it’s up to us to develop those new relationships with the coaches, managers and general managers, and hopefully they know who we are and how we play,” said Connor. “We’re excited, it’s going to be different, it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s our job now and that’s what we’re trying to go and do.”

While the Jones’ have been playing hockey together all their lives, when asked if there was a chance they could be separated, Connor replied.

“People have told us it might happen eventually. Because we are similar players, we are kind of fighting against each other for a spot. But I think with anybody who  has ever seen us play, they know we do best when we’re together, and we’re kind of a package.”

Wherever they end up, the duo will bring the same skill, determination, and work ethic that has garnered them championships at every level of their hockey careers.

“It’s our dream to be professional hockey players and we took a step last year to get there, with the AHL contracts,” said Kellen. “We’re just going to focus on doing the best we can, and not deferring to anyone, but just look to be the hardest working guys out there.”

Even more so, the twins will bring the same class and character that takes them home every summer to spend time with friends and family, develops young players at the hockey school so that one day the too may realize that same dream.