Remembering hockey great Art Jones
When Roger Bellerive arrived in Portland for the start of the 1968-69 hockey season, he'd never heard of Art Jones.
Within weeks, Bellerive was scoring at a clip he'd never before reached and understood that Jones was special.
"His vision of the game and his hockey IQ was off the charts," Bellerive recalled.
A Portland sports icon for more than a decade and one of the most dominant players in the history of the old professional Western Hockey League, Jones died Feb. 3, three days after his 86th birthday. Jones was one of a group of Buckaroos who settled in the Portland area after retiring from hockey.
Between their arrival as the first tenants of the new Veterans' Memorial Coliseum in the 1960-61 season until the demise of the WHL at the end of the 1973-74 season, the Buckaroos won more games than any other pro hockey club. The Buckaroos had the best regular-season record in the league eight times, made the league finals nine times and won three Lester Patrick Cup championships.
That success reflects the level of talent that Harry Glickman — who operated the franchise as an independent club for most of its existence — brought to Portland. None of the Buckaroos were as elite as Jones, who racked up the second most points (1,580 in 1,180 games) in the history of the old WHL, a professional minor league loaded with talent that thrived in an era when the National Hockey League had only six teams.
In 1970, Jones set a WHL record with 127 points (43 goals, 84 assists), one of five times he accumulated more than 100 points in a season.
A smooth-skating 5-10, 150-pound center, Jones played 17 seasons in the WHL, scoring 578 regular-season goals and dishing out 1,002 assists. A native of Bangor, Saskatchewan, Jones debuted in the WHL with the New Westminster Royals in 1957-58. He was with the Buckaroos for all 14 of Portland's seasons in the WHL, serving as team captain in 11 of those seasons.
"When I played with him, he was there every night, 100%," said Connie Madigan, a rugged defenseman and one of the main attractions in the WHL for his physical approach.
"A great player. A great scorer," Madigan, another ex-Buckaroo who settled in Portland, said of Jones. "He wasn't that fast, but he was tricky and elusive and could really handle the puck. He had a good shot, too."
The only player with more career points in the WHL than Jones was Guyle Fielder, though Jones had a higher points-per-game average. Fielder, 90 and living in Mesa, Arizona, called Jones "a very fine hockey player and a fine gentleman."
In fact, both Fielder and Jones have been compared by longtime hockey observers to Wayne Gretzky in terms of the way each skated and saw the ice.
Fielder played most of his career with the rival Seattle Totems, including all of the 1960s. Still, he and Jones were friendly. And they were teammates for a season and a half with Portland in the early 1970s.
Fielder said he had to work much harder than Jones did to pile up the assists and goals. Jones, Fielder said, seemed to play effortlessly.
"I'd tell Art, 'You hardly break a sweat. You could probably play with a suit on,'" Fielder said.
In the offseason, members of the Totems and Buckaroos would play a few golf events against each other. Fielder said Jones was an excellent golfer, though he could have been better if he'd taken that sport as seriously as Fielder did.
Fielder said Jones' puck-handling helped make the systems employed by Buckaroos coach Hal Laycoe difficult to play against. Buckaroos' teams were especially dangerous breaking out of their defensive zone, Fielder said. A former NHL defenseman, Laycoe coached the Buckaroos for nine seasons, during which time the club won more games (362) than any other pro hockey club.
Jones was the captain of most of those teams.
Though not a rah-rah leader, Jones was a strong captain, former teammates said.
Tom McVie, one of hockey's great storytellers, had a locker next to the quiet Jones.
"He sat by me a number of years (in the locker room) and I never heard him say much," McVie said. "Between periods, I thought he was taking a nap."
McVie, still active as a scout for the Boston Bruins, said he worked with a lot of good players during his career, but, "None of them could play as well as Art," McVie said.
Jones was especially dangerous running the point of the Buckaroos' vaunted power play, McVie said, noting that Jones, like Gretzky, could see a play unfold before it happened.
"Most guys go to where the puck is. He would go where the puck was going to be."
As fun as it was to play alongside Jones, McVie said players had to remain alert even if they didn't think Jones saw them.
"He never panicked or anything," McVie said. "He used to fake players out by not doing anything. I'm not kidding."
After retiring from pro hockey in 1974, Jones settled in Portland. Among his jobs was working as a supervisor at Portland Meadows and Multnomah Kennel Club.
More than five decades after Bellerive arrived in Portland from Chicago to fill the left-wing position for an injured Rich Van Imp, Bellerive still considers the 30 games he played on a line with Jones to be the most productive stretch of his 10 professional seasons. He figures at least 15 of his career-best 27 goals that season were set up by passes from Jones.
"My game was speed. Art applied that to the way he played and would set me up," Bellerive said. "Playing with Art in the first 30 games of that season was one of the best experiences I had in hockey."
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