Nitehawks alumnus Kellen and Connor Jones

Former Beaver Valley Nitehawks Connor Jones. Vasterviks IK photo

 

Montrose natives Kellen and Connor Jones played one season with their hometown Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in 2006-07. Kellen, a seventh round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2010 is playing in Sweden for Vasterviks IK in HockeyAllsvenskan with twin brother Connor, who played four games with the New York Islanders. Connor joined Kellen just after Christmas, about half way through this current season. 

In this Q&A, they answer questions about their professional careers. Watch the video as they talk about their time with the Nitehawks and their careers after. As 16-year-olds for the Nitehawks, Kellen put up 32 goals and 69 points in 54 regular season games, adding eight goals and 14 points in 21 playoff games. Connor had 28 goals and 75 points in 57 regular season games. He added four goals and 10 points in 23 playoff games.

 

KIJHL: How is your season going in terms of how you are playing?

Kellen: Right now we’re doing pretty good, playing good hockey. We wish we had a few more goals, but sometimes they just don’t go in. We’re playing well as a team and helping the team do good things. We’re in a solid place in the standings so that’s all that matters. As we’ve always done, just trying to go out there every night and do something positive to help the team win.

Connor: Great, sometimes the points just don’t come like they used to in BV or Vernon, but like Kel said, we’re just doing everything we can to help the team win.

 

KIJHL: What is it like to be reunited again? 

Connor: It’s awesome, a friend was telling me the other day, and they are saying how lucky we’ve been that Kel and I have played together so much of our lives. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play with him again and I think if you look at it with juniors, pro and college, it’s only under three years without each other. We’re pretty lucky, and I’m happy Kellen still likes having me around. 

 

KIJHL: Do you try to make it a point of playing together on teams as much as you can?

Kellen: It’s hard to have that in mind playing professionally. We’re both the same size and it’s not like you can have that many guys on the same team that are the type of player that we are. Sometimes you are the odd man out. We’ve been pretty fortunate in juniors and university, but pro is tough. It’s not an easy business and we’ve been pretty lucky to play at least four of the seven years together. We’d want to play on the same team, but we know that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

 

KIJHL: What is hockey like in Europe in terms of the playing style?

Connor: I would say it’s pretty defensive minded, especially in Sweden. Everyone plays really hard and it’s just a really good, solid league. There’s a ton of good players and the quality of play is unbelievable. The guys I play against and with, these guys are exceptional. Some of them are 19-21 years old and I remember back to when I was that age, and I was not playing professional hockey. Same with the imports too, you get guys with tons of AHL, NHL experience that are playing and competing hard as well. 

 

KIJHL: How do you feel you both are adapting to it?

Kellen: I played two years ago for the same team and we were together last year in Switzerland so we’re adapting fine. I think a good way of putting it is because there is such a big ice surface, a lot of teams play an overload style, so sometimes you have no time, but then sometimes you have tons of time. You just never know, some teams are different, and you just have to get a feel for each game. I think it’s a big difference between North America and here. In the U.S. you have a pretty good idea of what each game is going to be like. Fast paced and offensive. 

Connor: With the big ice, most people think it is an offensive game. Really, guys are smarter, and then there’s the trapping. It’s definitely more controlled. You have to be patient with your game and you’re not always going to have that end-to-end action like the NHL.

Kellen: I think you really have to work together with the five guys on the ice. There is so much room and you really need to be reading off your teammates.

 

KIJHL: Have you both noticed changes in your playing style?

Kellen: I would say yes. I mean the reason why Connor has had probably a more successful career is that he was able to adapt to the game, especially in the American League. Find a niche and fill a role and that ultimately got him into the NHL. I tried to do the same, but I just could never change my game as much and I think that is why I’ve enjoyed Europe. It gets me back to the same way I played in college and junior. You do lose some things and your instincts are not as good after playing a certain style for so long.

Connor: For me, I think back to playing in Beaver Valley and junior and college, it was some of the best hockey I ever played statistically. I’m not a totally different player now, and there are still things that I can do, but when you commit to a role, it’s sometimes hard to go back. For a long time I had to tell myself, ‘Hey, you’re being a pest tonight, you’re dumping the puck in, you’re hitting everyone, and really doing anything but scoring.’ I wasn’t counted on to score goals so like Kel said, you kind of forget about that part of your game if you’re not put in those situations. When you’re not on the power play or first line, you’re not getting a ton of chances or opportunities, you definitely start to lose your confidence in those situations.

 

KIJHL: Away from the rink, what have you enjoyed about being in Europe?

Connor: Ah, the cinnamon buns. Kellen: Other than the hockey? Definitely the coffee. 

Last year we were pretty lucky that travel in Switzerland is easy. You’re home every night and you don’t have to stay in a hotel. We had some time to travel around and explore the country. We’ve been pretty fortunate to make some pretty good friends from each team and can do fun things with them and go places. Obviously it’s a little different now with COVID-19. You want to be careful where you are going, be smart so it’s been a relatively quiet season. 

Connor: I think the thing you most enjoy is you have a little more time on your hands compared to in college. I remember the first year playing pro, it was like kind of going back to juniors. Practice in the morning then done at one, so lot’s of free time. 

Both of us have tried to do things to better ourselves after hockey. Whether it’s reading or writing, finance, there is always something to learn about and get better at it. Also, really enjoying the city of Vastervik, it’s right on the water and is a beautiful place.

 

KIJHL: What was it like playing in the American Hockey League? 

Connor: I’d like to think it’s one of the top leagues in the world. You have days where you think you are so close to the NHL, then you have days where you feel kind of far away. It’s hard to explain. You realize that you are playing against some of the best players in the world. Young players and top prospects, some great older players too. It’s a really hard league to play in with the schedule as well. A lot of games, you know, playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It becomes a grind, but it’s also worthwhile because you are just one step away from the NHL. It’s a pretty cool experience. 

Kellen: You get treated so well, from the facilities to the people around you and staff too. You feel like you are just treated like gold, everyone is trying to help you achieve your goals. You want to strive to get there and once you do get there, it’s a huge step and you want to work as hard as possible to move on.

 

KIJHL: Connor, what was that experience of playing in the NHL like for you? 

Connor: It was incredible. I always say it’s one of those things you work so hard for and it was such a dream come true and you just don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. There’s a lot of great players out there. For me, it’s something I will never forget that I made it. I put everything I had into it, changed my game entirely. It was a really gratifying feeling to know how hard I worked to put myself in that situation. 

 

KIJHL: Where did you play?

Connor: I played in Buffalo, Nashville, Carolina and (in New York against Ottawa). One of my best memories is going right from the rink to the bus, straight to the private jet and you sit down, get your meal and I think I texted Kel, ‘Hey I’m having a beer on the plane. This is pretty neat eh?’ Haha. 

It was an unforgettable experience. I get emotional thinking about it right now. It’s a special memory.

 

KIJHL: Who were your line-mates? 

Connor: My linemates were Cal Clutterbuck, and Stephen Gionta, they were awesome. The whole team was filled with a bunch of great players and great guys too.