Friday, June 10, 2016

Martin Jones ... one more down -- next up

By Larry Wigge

Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Phil Kessel. Nick Bonino. Carl Hagelin. Patric Hornqvist. Conor Sheary.

Not a one was spared in the 44 save effort by Martin Jones as the San Jose Sharks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals Thursday night.

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday.

"Life's on the line," said captain Joe Pavelski.

"This team hasn't quit all year and we're not going to start now," Jones said on the ice after the game. "There's still a long way to go, it's going to be an uphill battle, but we're going to fight till the very end."

Several of the Penguins' chances were Grade-A opportunities, but Jones was equal to every one after Carl Hagelin tied the game at 2-2 at 5:06 of the first period.

Forty-four saves later, only two other goaltenders in the NHL's expansion era (i.e., 1968 to date) made 40 or more saves while winning a Stanley Cup Final game in regulation time. In 2011, Boston's Tim Thomas turned aside 40 shots in his 8-1 win over the Canucks in Game 3 and in 2014 Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves as the Rangers avoided elimination with a win over the Kings in Game 4.

"Just unbelievable," Sharks center Joe Thornton. "He's been big for us all year. He's been our backbone."

The second question of coach Peter DeBoer afterward had to do with Jones.

How long did it take you to notice Jones?

DeBoer said he first became acquainted with Jones before he was even hired to coach the club at the World Championships last May.

"I spent a month with him at the world championships last year. He backed up Mike Smith," said DeBoer, an assistant for Team Canada. "It was mostly practices, not games for him. I got to know him as a person and right away, you recognized his composure, even in that situation.

"I think right away you recognized his composure, how calm and cool he was even in that situation. Then the big question was whether there was a competitive edge there with that composure.

"That's always the million-dollar question. We started the season, it didn't start as smoothly for any of us as we wanted. I mean, we were winning one, losing one, including him. He just kept battling and battling. I kept throwing him out there, he kept finding a way. I think we all recognized then that he had that competitive edge too. That is critical."

Just after that world championship, DeBoer was named head coach of the Sharks and slightly over a month later, after Jones had first been traded by the Kings to the Boston Bruins, the Sharks picked him up for a first rounder and a prospect.

"I think if you spend any time with Martin Jones, you realize that nothing rattles this guy," continued DeBoer. "Calmness, efficiency in net. No wasted movements. Just gives the whole team a comforting feeling."

Chris Tierney said, "He bailed us out a couple of times ... he has stolen games for us all year."

"He's an awesome, awesome teammate," Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick said of Jones. "He was well-liked in the locker room and he would do anything for any of his teammates.

"That's a guy who, you know he's worked hard. You watched him kind of come up the ranks and work his way up. Guys like that, you want to see them get opportunities and you want to do well. Maybe just not against us."

"We're pretty different," Jones said of the comparisons to Quick. "But I just watched how he competes. He elevated his game in the playoffs, and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate."

"He's not overly busy in the net," said King goaltending coach Bill Ranford. "He sucks pucks in. Just plays a real simple, quiet, positional game."

He was UNDRAFTED!!!!

With his father, Harvey Jones, overseeing the construction of and then running Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Martin grew up with no shortage of technical goaltending instruction. He played minor hockey with the son of then-Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford, who would later play a role in bringing him to the Kings as an undrafted free agent. It wasn't uncommon to see them taking shots on the NHL ice from the elder Crawford long after Canucks practice was over. They were joined by then-Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark and sometimes his son, Morgan, who ironically was picked by Vancouver instead of Jones in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Draft.

"When he got to Manchester in the American Hockey League," said Ranford. "There are nights you have to compete, you have to come outside of the box and I think that's an area that he's really developed and we've learned he does have that in his game. He had to learn it a little bit and work at it, and he's done that."

Said Jones, "I was focused on learning the other aspects, like reading the play and making saves outside the box if you have to and just battling and competing."

Then came the trade. Milan Lucic for Jones, Colin Miller and a first-round draft choice to Boston.

"I've never been traded before, so this is all new to me," Jones remembered. "It's exciting. It's pretty sad when you're leaving a place like L.A. where I formed a lot of good relationships, but I'm looking forward to taking on a bigger responsibility and playing in San Jose."

Then, four days later, Jones was traded again for Sean Kuraly and San Jose's first round pick in 2016.

"That was still a shock," said Jones, who said he couldn't think straight for a few moments until he got the phone call from San Jose GM Doug Wilson.

"We obviously feel very strongly about him," Wilson said. "If you see something that you really want, we have no problem paying full value and going up and getting him. That's what we did.

"Martin was at the top of our list of players that we had targeted."

Martin Jones wanted to be his own man.

After spending the last two years as the Los Angeles Kings backup goaltender, the 6-4, 190-pound netminder from North Vancouver was yearning to get his shot.

He made the 350-mile journey from Los Angeles to San Jose by way of Boston.

A contrived deal. You bet your life on it. Kings GM Dean Lombardi wasn't about to let a prospect like Jones go to a Pacific Division rival. So ...

Maybe there was a little under-the-table negotiations going on between the Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Boston GM Don Sweeney.

"He was number one on our list," explained Wilson. "We liked his style of play. His size. His age. His competitiveness. We thought he was a guy that would fit great for us.

"We've had a lot of trade discussions, and there are a lot of different ways to acquire people. This one came to fruition after a lot of conversation."

Jones posted a brilliant 37-23-4 record with a 2.27 and a .918 save percentage and he capped that by going 6-0 in the Forum in Los Angeles by winning three straight games there in the playoffs.

Following a historic collapse against the Kings in the 2014 Western Conference First Round, the San Jose Sharks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs entirely last season for the first time since 2003.

But back to Jones.

Joe Thornton says that Jones was a perfect fit for the Shark. "He's a stud. There's no denying it."

He was so excited about being his own man, having the No. 1 job.

"It's hard being a backup goalie," Jones said. "You've got to sit on your games a couple of weeks at a time. It puts a lot of added pressure on yourself to get the results.

"It's tough, especially when you want to play and you're not sure when you're going to get the start. But going into a season with a guy like Quick, you know that's going to be the case. It's part of the job. You just try to be a good teammate and work hard in practice."

In Boston, it was ...

"It was a win-win on both situations, Jones is a quality goaltender but we also got quality return," said Sweeney.

A goaltender's mentality gets out.

Years ago, Dylan Crawford, son of Marc Crawford, who was then coaching the Kings then, told his father that Jones was a kid Los Angeles should look at. He had IT.

As a goaltender you want to have the same mindset that a baseball pitcher has -- you want to have a bad memory. If you give up a home run or if you give up a bad goal, you're able to get over it. Martin Jones had that. He's got a perfect demeanour for a goaltender.

The same was said years ago about all-world goaltender Dominik Hasek when he twice named the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 1997 and again in '98.

"Martin doesn't know anything but winning," Crawford said. "The goalie has to win games for you, and he's learned how to do that from a young age. I've very rarely seen him have bad outings. When he does have one, he'll follow it up with a real quality start. That's character, but it's also having the quality of knowing what your game is all about. That's why I think he'll continue to be real good in the NHL."

Unknown, but with a rich pedigree.

"I watched the tape of it two or three years ago and I'm looking at it going, 'Holy, was Marty ever good.' So often that was the case," continued Crawford. "They had about five or six kids playing in the NHL now, including Evander Kane, Patrick Wiercioch and Stefan Elliott, which means they had a lot of really good players, but Marty's was outstanding."

But something else was happening to Jones as well ... he was growing ... and growing ... and growing. By the time he was done growing the quick little goalie who did nothing but win with the Winterhawks was now nearly 6-4.

When you're a smaller goalie you need to be very technically sound to be successful. When he was small, he was sound. Now, that Marty was big, he had the advantage of his size ... the sky was the limit.

Harvey Jones, Martin's father, worked for the Vancouver Canucks for 15 years as a vice-president and general manager of arena operation at Rogers Center.

Before joining the Canucks, he worked on construction projects in Argentina, Guam and Iran. Martin's mother, Sofia, is from Argentina.

"He likes to be in the center, likes the responsibility and likes to be important but not in a way where he's outgoing and aggressive and goes seeking it," Harvey Jones said. "Being a goalie was perfect for him. He likes to be relied on, a thoughtful, reflective kid ... he was around the dressing room a little bit. He saw what it was like and what was going on. It would be different than some kid that grew up in northern Saskatchewan and had never been to an NHL game."

For years, things, obstacles had gotten in his Martin Jones way. Undrafted. Being stuck behind one of the greatest goaltenders in the world -- Jonathan Quick.

Everything is going Jones' way in San Jose.

"That's the end game, is to play in this league and be a starting goalie, and have a chance to play for a Stanley Cup," Jones said. "I think the transition has been really good. All the guys, all the trainers, have made it very easy for me. It's been very good."

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