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Winterhawks defenseman follows in brother's footsteps

COURTESY: BRYAN HEIM/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - Caleb Jones is one of the Portland Winterhawks' defensive stalwarts this season.Escaping the shadow cast by his famous older brother, new Portland Winterhawks defenseman Caleb Jones already has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.

The 18-year-old Jones has been busy becoming his own man with the Hawks, three seasons after his brother Seth Jones helped the team make the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament. Seth Jones, the No. 4 NHL pick in 2013, plays for the Nashville Predators.

Says veteran forward Paul Bittner, who played on the 2012-13 team, says:

“Caleb is a great addition, and I feel like he’s a little better defensively in junior than Seth. They’re both great players. Seth is a great player, playing in the NHL. But Caleb is a really good player as well.”

Fellow Portland defenseman Blake Heinrich says Jones, who has two goals and seven assists and a plus-6 rating in 14 games, fits right in with the Western Hockey League club.

“Great player,” Heinrich says. “I never watched his brother play; Seth’s a big guy, Caleb’s not as big. But he’s great offensively, great defensively. He plays well with anybody.”

Jones couldn’t be happier playing for the Winterhawks. A former bantam pick, he committed to the team after visiting with Jamie Kompon, general manager and coach, late last season. After finishing play with the United States National Development Program U-18 team, Jones would have joined the Winterhawks in the WHL playoffs, had the Hawks extended their Western Conference finals series against Kelowna.

Jones, the son of Amy Jones and former NBA player Ronald “Popeye” Jones, went the junior hockey route despite receiving many offers from the college ranks. An Edmonton Oilers' fourth-round draft pick, he wants to be an NHL player, and the NHL-style rules and play and longer schedule in the WHL will prepare him well.

“I was leaning toward college,” he says. “I liked the NCAA, even though Seth came here.

“I heard from him. I talked with Jamie. I knew I had to come here. It’s tough to see (friends) go to college, and you think it’s the best route, but when I came up (to Portland) last year around playoff time, it was great. I knew it was a good league and where I needed to be.”

Jones remembers wanting to go to the University of Wisconsin. He visited the school, and another defenseman served as his escort around the campus. It was Jack Dougherty, who, coincidentally, also has joined the Winterhawks.

“It’s funny: I don’t go there and he decides to come to Portland,” Jones says.

Jones and Dougherty joined a defensive corps that also includes mainstays Heinrich and Keoni Texeira.

Despite being smaller than his brother, Jones is about 6-1 and 195 pounds, and he is a physical player with very good offensive skills. He says the level of play in the WHL has been impressive and takes an adjustments, such as when to be offensive and when to take care of defense.

“He’s going through the league for first time; the first thing he’ll admit to you is it’s a really good league,” Kompon says. “You have to be on your toes and be able to compete hard every night. Prepare to play.

“He’s like a stallion, you’ve just got to tame him a bit, tell him when to jump (into the play) and when not to jump, when to manage the puck. He doesn’t have to carry the puck, he just has to move the puck. He doesn’t have to lead the pack by any means. Defensively, take care of your own end; be solid and counted upon, and when the opportunity arises, we want him part of the rush.”

Jones is smart and adjusting well. Told of Bittner’s high praise, he is humble.

“I always have something to learn, especially in my own zone, positioning and things like that,” Jones says. “But I think I have a good base under me, and I can defend pretty well and create offense, too. I think I have a good all-around game and I’m just trying to build the building blocks to it.”

Jones hails from Arlington, Texas, where his family settled after his father’s NBA career. Popeye Jones has been a longtime NBA assistant coach; he’s now with the Indiana Pacers. Amy Jones has served a strong role in the raising of their three boys; Justin Jones, the oldest brother, also played hockey at the junior and collegiate level.

The boys grew up in the burgeoning Dallas-area hockey community, only dabbling in basketball. Caleb Jones does admit to having some hoop skills — “probably better than Seth,” he says, smiling.

Their dad “never pressured us, he wanted us to do something we liked,” Jones says. “I just kind of followed my older brother Justin and Seth into it. I was a little brother and, ‘Oh, older brother’s doing that ...’”

Jones helped the U-18 team win the gold medal at the world championships. He attended the U.S. national junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August, and all signs point to Jones being part of the U.S. team in the next World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.

In the meantime, he wants to help the Winterhawks make strides, and wants to continue to make his own name, saying, “I definitely think I have my own name now.”

But, he doesn’t mind the comparison thing.

“Yeah, we’re pretty similar,” he says, of his brother Seth. “I think I’m a little more physical than he is. I like to throw a couple more hits every once in a while. For the most part, our games really resemble — I like to transport the puck up the ice and create offense and be solid defnsively. if you watch him play a game and me, I don’t think you’ll see many differences.”

His brother was bigger at the junior level, but the younger Jones doesn’t feel compelled to gain more weight. It’ll come with maturity, and he expects to grow taller.

“The way the games are going, it doesn’t matter,” Jones says. “You can take good angles and have good stick on puck. A good part of my game is being strong in the corners and moving guys around. But, ultimately it’s about skating nowadays.”

The Oilers want him to play “a simple game” and be a two-way defenseman.

Jones stays in touch with his brother, mostly through texting.

“He’ll give me advice, and I’ll rag on him if he has a good game — ‘Figure it out,’” Jones says, smiling. “We’re really close at home during the summers, training together. We don’t miss a beat. When we get together, we feel like we’ve not missed each other at all.”

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