By Dan Saevig
TOLEDO, Ohio – He was 5 years old then, perhaps 6 or 7.
Mike Jones isn’t quite sure.
More than 20 years and hundreds of hockey games have passed since that morning at the Sports Arena in the early 1980s, but there’s one thing the Toledo native can’t forget.
“I got lit up for five,” Jones said with a laugh. “We came back to pull out a 5-5 tie, but that may have been the last time I played goal.”
It’s one of his earliest memories of the Sports Arena. It won’t be the last.
Wednesday morning at 10:30, the 1994 graduate of Northview High School will play in his hometown for the first time in a five-year professional career. The defenseman’s Anchorage-based Alaska Aces meet the Storm in an ECHL school-day special.
“I’m very excited,” Jones admitted. “I live in Toledo. I’m a Toledoan 100 percent and I’m proud of it. But I want to keep it in focus.”
It won’t be easy. Family and friends are as thrilled to watch the 28-year-old as he is to see them.
Jones’ mom, Sandy, will be there, making the short drive from her home near the University of Toledo. So will his sister Julie Lowery, and her family. His dad, Willis, has flown in from Florida with Mike’s step-mom, Tara.
Counting relatives and friends from high school and his days at Bowling Green State University where Jones played from 1996-2000, the backliner expects anywhere from 50 to 100 in attendance.
So much for a typical ECHL regular-season road game.
And then there’s the game time. When the puck is dropped, it’ll be 6:30 a.m. in The Last Frontier.
“That’s well before my wake-up call in Alaska,” Jones said.
For one day, at least, this Ace will have to forego his beauty sleep.
“Mike’s a pretty good-looking guy,” said Ryan Bast, a Storm alumnus from the 1996-97 season who rooms with Jones on the road. “I think he got enough sleep the first few years of his pro career. He’s banked all that pretty-boy time.”
Jones has had to endure his share of hits the past few days.
“The Sports Arena is infamous,” Jones said. “The guys are giving me the business about my hometown rink and the shape it’s in.”
The Aces are laughing a lot these days. The team, which includes locked-out NHL all-star and native Alaskan Scott Gomez, is 12-2-1 since Jan. 21 and 31-15-5 overall.
“There’s nothing sacred with our team,” Alaska coach Davis Payne said. “It’s up to Mike to put on a show not only for his family and friends but for his teammates. We’ve got five guys from Alaska who play at home 36 times a year, so why shouldn’t Mike have to do it at least once?”
Payne noted that Jones has really stepped up his game this season. With six goals and 17 assists in 45 games, the 6-3, 190-pounder is on track to produce his most points in a season since signing a contract with Tampa Bay of the NHL and turning pro with Detroit of the International Hockey League in 2000. He had nine goals and 17 assists with the Vipers that year.
Jones has spent the past four seasons in the ECHL. He played parts of three injury-filled years in Pensacola after being assigned there by Tampa Bay, before a midyear trade sent him to Alaska last season.
Ironically, Jones didn’t start playing defense until his senior year at Northview.
“I happened to be one of the guys who could skate backwards at the time,” Jones said. “It blossomed from there.”
After graduation, Jones went to Cleveland where he spent two seasons playing junior hockey. It was during his second year that then-Falcons coach Buddy Powers offered a scholarship.
“I grew up watching BG,” Jones said. “My dad had season tickets. I was a huge Rob Blake fan. Nelson Emerson, Danny Kane, Gary Galley, Mike Pikul – that’s where I wanted to go.”
Where his career goes next has yet to be determined.
“It’s definitely winding down,” said Jones, who graduated from BGSU with a degree in communications. “But I’d like to stay in the game one way or the other.”
Until that time comes, however, there’s always tomorrow.
“I’d like to think I’ll take it like any other game,” Jones said. “But I know that will be very hard to do.”