Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
Senior Nick Jones has ice in his veins.
Young athletes, across any sport, want to be the hero for their team. They want to make a three-point shot as the buzzer sounds, they want to be the one to hit the walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. In the game of hockey, players want the puck on their stick in overtime or late in the third period in a tie game.
Many find themselves not up to the task in such a big moment. They clank the jumper off the rim, they strikeout or they leave a shot wide of the net. Nick Jones thrives in those moments. He is prepared for them because he has succeeded in those sequences before. So much so that Jones was one of the most clutch players in all of college hockey last season.
For Jones, it’s not backing down from the moment, taking it head on and recalling the days when he was on an ice sheet alone, fantasizing about that very moment. It is one he and many other young athletes dream of. “When you’re growing up as a kid, you dream of scoring the game-winning goal every time, you’re not thinking about scoring the second goal of the game or whatever,” he said.
These visions of hockey grandeur led Jones to have a team-high four game-winning goals last season. “Just believing that you’re going to get the goal. When it’s a close game, I go out there believing I’m going to be the one who scores every time. When the time comes, you’re ready for it. I think a little bit of visualization goes into that,” Jones said. “I think mentally, that’s the biggest thing when we’re going into overtime or something like that, going into it knowing that I’ll score the goal. Just mentally preparing for that moment.”
Those four game-winning goals were tops on North Dakota’s roster. However, Jones was tied for 17th in the nation in that statistical category. The nation’s sole leader last season, Darien Craighead of Northern Michigan, had six game-winners. Due to a logjam of players with five, Jones was pushed down that statistical leaderboard. However, Nick Jones was only two game-winning goals short of leading the nation in that category. That alone is something to behold.
Along with that, Jones was named to the NCHC Academic All-Conference Team and was also named the NCHC’s Distinguished Scholar-Athlete. So not only does he get the job done on the ice, but off it as well. Jones also received UND’s Cliff “Fido” Purpur award at the end of last season. The award is given to the player who “exemplifies hard work, determination and being a creator of excitement on the ice.”
When asked how he created excitement on the ice in relation to receiving that honor, Jones shook it off and laughed. “Honestly, I don’t even know,” he said, smiling. “I wasn’t sure, that award has a bunch of things in it and I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you.”
What may be frightening for the opposition is the fact that Jones believes he has improved over the course of the offseason. This, after leading the team in goals with 15 and finishing second on the team in points with 30. Those two marks were career highs and were attained despite Jones missing six games over the course of the 2017-18 season. All in all, he concluded the season with a plus-9 rating, good for third on the Fighting Hawks roster.
“I had a pretty good offseason this summer and working a lot on my game and I’ve been getting stronger, better on the ice, doing little things to improve my skills,” Jones said. “With team success comes individual success so I got some good players I am playing with right now and I think just gelling with them will create individual success and team success.”
One thing that is different for the senior this season is his leadership role. He will enter his first season as an assistant captain. Keep in mind, this is only Jones’ second season with the program after attending Ohio State and spending some time in the BCHL. Jones sees his leadership qualities growing after a season where he became more of a vocal leader on the ice.
“I think I’m able to be a little bit more vocal, more than last year. We just have such a close group right now that it’s not weird jumping into a leadership role, voicing your opinion,” he said. “We have a close-knit team to where I can come in and not change much, but maybe be a little bit more vocal and all the guys have respect for all the leaders, so it’ll be an easy transition.”
Jones puts 2017-18 into perspective, seeing the shortcomings of the team early in 2017. “The non-conference games mean so much. We were so concerned last year, the NCHC and how hard it is and how much it grinded us, we got to put more emphasis on the non-conference games,” he said. “Every team in the NCHC is going to be a fight every night, but every team in the nonconference is different. We have to treat those games like we’re going into an NCHC game so we won’t have those ties or that loss to a team that you shouldn’t have lost to at the end of the year.”
What may prove beneficial for North Dakota is the mixture of conference and non-conference games early in the season. Their non-conference schedule stretches into 2019 before they hit a full NCHC schedule. If the team’s aim is to not take any team lightly, playing a conference team and then a non-conference team in succession may allow them to keep that same NCHC mindset throughout the course of the season.
Jones already looks to pace the Fighting Hawks offense in 2018-19. Though he did not score a goal in their opening exhibition against Manitoba, he recorded seven shots on goal, the most on the team. He also assisted on Grant Mismash’s goal that broke the scoring seal in that game.
Jones and UND were disappointed after their opening weekend loss and tie to Bemidji State. However, Jones played well as an individual for the Fighting Hawks. He had a total of seven shots on goal against the Beavers and assisted on both UND goals over the course of the weekend. Jones shared the puck again in UND’s series against Minnesota State Mankato. He assisted on two goals, but also had a total of five shots on goal. Jones also won a total of 27 face-offs throughout the weekend.
If you follow UND hockey, you know Nick Jones loves to find the net. Not only that, he loves to find the net at the most opportune times. This is what led him to four game-winning goals last season and possibly more in 2018- 19. It takes a certain kind of mental fitness to want to be the guy with the puck on your stick. Nick Jones wants more than the puck on his stick, he wants the puck in the back of the net. He has proven time and time again that he is a cold-blooded, crunch time, clutch performer for North Dakota hockey.
Nick Jones’ Journey To UND And Beyond
- 2014: Graduate of Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton, Alberta.
- 2014-15: Played at Ohio State University.
- 2015-16: Played three games for the Buckeyes before joining the BCHL Penticton Vees. Played alongside future UND teammates Gabe Best, Colton Poolman, Dixon Bowen and former Fighting Hawk Tyson Jost.
- 2016-17: Played entire season with Penticton. Led them to a BCHL championship with a team-leading 62 points.
- 2017-18: Junior season at UND. Led the team in goals (15) and was second on the team in points (30).