Jones shows he’s fit for starting goalie role
Associate coach says Jones is well suited to take over from Dylan Wells
If his fitness test results are any indication Hunter Jones is better prepared this year to assume the Peterborough Petes starting goalie role left vacant by Dylan Wells.
Filling those skates is a lot to ask of a goalie with 15 games of OHL experience who posted a 3-9 record last season with a 5.14 GAA and .866 save percentage.
But Jones is the most experienced of the six goalies who participated in Wednesday night’s Maroon and White Game at the Memorial Centre which ended training camp.
Jones was impressive in the scrimmages allowing the fewest goals against of the six goalies but he struggled in the Maroon and White Game allowing four goals in one period.
Petes associate coach and goalie mentor Andrew Verner has faith in Jones who he hand-picked in the fifth-round of the 2016 OHL draft because of the potential he saw in the six-foot-four, 195-pound Brantford native.
Hockey Canada recognized something, too, selecting him for both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the 2016 World Jr. A Challenge based on his impressive 2016-17 showing as a 16-year-old with the OJHL’s Stouffville Spirit where he was 7-7 with a 2.74 GAA and .917 save percentage.
“When we drafted him in the fifth round we felt like it was a steal,” Verner said.
“Hockey Canada kind of reinforced that. Four guys were drafted ahead of Hunter that year and only two of them made a Canadian under-17 team.”
Verner said Jones was in a tough spot last year playing behind a goalie being considered for the national junior team.
“Hunter had to sit and watch Dylan play on back-to-back nights. Hunter would sometimes get the scraps; a third game in three nights after tough travel or a Sunday Ottawa game at 2 after a Saturday night home game. To us, he showed flashes especially early in the year.”
That was through a lack of playing time, and even training time, due to a high school schedule which limited his off-ice workouts compared to older players, Verner said.
“Through no fault of his own,” Verner said.
“When he did get to play later in the year his game-conditioning wasn’t there for him. He always had good starts but faded in the second-half of games.”
Verner challenged Jones, who doesn’t turn 18 until Sept. 21, to commit himself to off-ice conditioning so he can handle a potential 50-game workload.
“We just got our fitness results back and he had unbelievable results,” Verner said.
“He put the time in this summer and improved more than any of our returning players.”
Because of his late birth date, Jones wasn’t eligible for the NHL draft last season and Verner says scouts have expressed a lot of interest in seeing what he can do this season. He may have a lot to prove but Verner says that’s part of the nature of junior hockey.
“He’s a perfect microcosm of our team,” Verner said.
“Most of our guys are 2000s and are taking on roles they started to fill out at the end of last season through trades and attrition.
“We think they can all do it based on junior hockey. Each year you are a year older and every year the league is a year worse for you. The expectation is that group of 2000s who are taking on bigger roles can all handle it.”
Jones says he’s ready for the challenge. “I’m coming into camp with my best foot forward,” Jones said. “I feel great after having a hard-working summer. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and 100 per cent a better goalie than last year. It was great learning from Dylan throughout the year and getting some experience through him and practising every day with the guys. I definitely feel ready to go.”
Jones said the most valuable lesson he learned last season was about the mental approach to hockey.
“Just stay positive throughout the year,” Jones said.
“Last year a lot of my problem is I wasn’t playing very much and every time I got into the net it was almost like I was trying to prove something, to try to play more, with every start. I was thinking about it too much. I think the best thing for me this year is to just take it one game at a time, one day at a time, and not overthink things.”
The Petes will practice Thursday and Friday before playing their first exhibition game Saturday night on the road against the Guelph Storm. They host the Oshawa Generals at 2 p.m. Sunday at the PMC.
NOTE: See Petes Pieces on Page B10.
Team Maroon goalie Hunter Jones eyes a puck in the air against Team White during the annual Maroon and White game on Wednesday night at the Memorial Centre. See Petes Pieces on Page B10 and more photos in online gallery at www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com.