Jones takes another step on path to NHL
Winterhawk defenseman helps shut down Canada at world junior tournament
Caleb Jones did not participate in the penalty-shot shootout that decided the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-20 World Championships. But the Portland Winterhawks defenseman contributed to the thrilling tiebreaker that lifted Team USA over Canada.
Before the shootout, Jones shared with USA goalie Tyler Parsons that if Mathew Barzal shot for Canada he should expect a backhand.
"And sure enough he did, and Parsons read it the whole way, Jones says. "I felt good about being able to help my goalie in the shootout."
Parsons stopped all five Canada shooters in a 5-4 (1-0) victory.
Troy Terry scored the only shootout goal against Canada and its goalie, Carter Hart from the Everett Silvertips, to give Team USA the win on Jan. 5 before more than 20,000 fans in Montreal.
Jones was a big contributor on the ice, tasked with shutting down the top forwards on opposing teams, a job he embraced.
"I was still looking for offensive chances — not near as much as I do in Portland getting up the ice. But I think I did a really good job of shutting down the other team's top players and playing physical," Jones says. "And I think it's a good thing for me to be able to play multiple roles depending on the team needs."
Against Canada, that meant being matched against players such as Barzal, the New York Islanders prospect who plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
"We had some physical battles in that game," Jones says. "It was pretty funny knowing that I'll be playing against him pretty soon when he's back in Seattle."
Jones also will see goalie Carter Hart, who played a strong game for Canada, in future games against Everett.
Jones — who in April signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers — figures playing the shut-down role for Team USA will help him along a path he hopes leads to following his brother Seth into the NHL.
"When I really project as a player, hopefully in the National Hockey League, I will be a two-way defenseman, and I can contribute on both ends of the ice equally," Jones says. "That experience of being the shut-down guy for the U.S. team, I think it'll help me a lot even in the next couple years of my development."
With Portland, Jones is on the ice in all situations, including power plays. This season, he has three goals and 28 assists, averaging almost a point a game. Last season, he finished with 10 goals and 45 assists in 72 regular-season games for the Hawks.
For the United States, he was not part of the power play, but his workload when the teams were at even strength and while killing penalties was "a little bit tougher minutes. I do thrive on that. I think when I can kind of get into a rhythm and really get the minutes up, that's when I play my best."
Jones had two assists and a plus-2 rating over the seven World Juniors games. He says it helped him and the team that a dozen of the players were his teammates on a gold-medal winning under-18 team two years ago.
That connection was critical when Canada twice took two-goal leads in the final — including 4-2 early in the third period.
"I think for a quick sec we got a little down. The crowd was going crazy. We could barely hear ourselves talk to each other," Jones says.
"The character of our older guys in the group that have (won a gold-medal game before) really took over. And we knew that if we just remained calm and continued playing our game we were going to give ourselves a chance to tie the game."
They tied it with two quick goals, setting up a wild finish to the third period and 20 nerve-testing minutes of sudden-death overtime that saw both teams create great scoring chances.
Jones says he loves those high-pressure moments.
"I think when the moment's big I perform at my best. That's something I take pride in," he says. "I think to be a great athlete you've got to love the pressure and perform under it. So I just try to remain calm. I know if I just play my game I'm going to play well and give my team the best chance to win."
Now he returns to Portland to help the Winterhawks in every way possible.
Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks VP/GM/coach, says Jones' competitiveness and versatility has been tremendous this season and the World Juniors experience will only add to his confidence.
"The second half of the season is all about playing in big games and big moments," Johnston says. "Those kind of experiences are really valuable for his development."
Winning a gold medal against Canada in Canada is an experience that will stay with Jones.
"It was unbelievable. It's a quick tournament. It was one of the quickest three weeks of my life," Jones says. "That gold medal game was probably the best game I've ever been a part of."