WASHINGTON, D.C. — Concerning the matter of minor youth hockey in greater Vancouver during the early 2000s, the North Shore Winter Club and the Surrey Minor Hockey Association developed quite the rivalry in the local leagues. Based across the harbor from downtown, North Shore Winter Club had a reputation for consistent success, which made them all the more loathsome to their opponents from the southern suburb, including a left-handed defenseman named Brendan Dillon. In particular, there was that wiry, impenetrable North Shore goaltender few ever took pleasure in facing.
“You’re hoping they’re starting the other guy most nights,” Dillon said. “We’d like to think it was just having a good team in front of him, but he just kept proving and proving that the had the stuff.”
The years passed and Dillon kept encountering his old nemesis, whether in the Western Hockey League or later the Western Conference, until the time came to recount this story, two games into their tenure together as teammates with the San Jose Sharks. Even back then, Dillon said inside the visiting dressing room at Verizon Center, he knew there was something special about Martin Jones.
They are friends now, connected by their side-by-side rise into the NHL as undrafted free agents, bonded through their time together on the golf course last summer. “You go through the struggles of losing 30 balls in the water,” Dillon said, though once again Jones held the upper hand, firing sub-80 scores even during his worst rounds. Still, after a cyclonical four days in late June whirled Jones to the opposite coast and back, the fairway strolls and cart rides offered plenty of hours for Jones to learn about his newest team.
If they hadn’t already known, the Sharks soon discovered what Dillon recalled from their childhood matches. Four games into his debut season as a No. 1 goaltender, after San Jose pasted a listless Washington team and squeaked out a shootout win over New Jersey, Jones had blanked more opponents (two) than allowed even-strength goals (one), posted a Sharks-record shutout streak (234:33) longer than the extended edition of “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (223:00), saved 108 of 110 shots on net, and at least thus far justified the price GM Doug Wilson paid for his services: a first-round pick and prospect to the Boston Bruins, and a three-year, $9 million contract to Wilson upon his arrival, making him the 29th highest-paid goaltender in the league.
As Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday night, witness and victim to the second of Jones’s shutouts, “The young Jones kid is money in the bank right now for them.”
The first phone call came as Jones vacationed in Los Angeles, where he had made 34 appearances over two seasons behind a two-time Stanley Cup winner, the tenured Jonathan Quick. His statistics there—1.99 goals against average, .923 save percentage, one goal allowed in 18 shootout attempts—were strong, but the 25-year-old still had plenty to prove, particularly for a full-time starting NHL gig.
At best, Jones played second fiddle to Milan Lucic in the initial draft-day deal, which shipped the veteran power forward to Los Angeles for him, the 13th overall pick and prospect Colin Miller, and once more projected the towering 6'4" Jones into a backup role, this time behind Tuukka Rask. He had enjoyed the Kings organization, but his success was a double-edged sword. Entering restricted free agency, with Quick under contract until 2023, Los Angeles knew Jones’s value was high.
“I was just trying to wrap my head around it, then before you know it, my phone rang again,” he said. “I think it all happened so quickly it was a bit of a blur.”
On June 30, Jones was golfing with his friends in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he learned the Bruins had then flipped him to San Jose, returning him to the Pacific Division, a few hundred miles up Interstate 5 from his old home. The shock subsided faster this time, though, among Jones and his friends. Here was a chance both Boston and Los Angeles couldn’t offer.
“Getting traded to Boston, I thought there was maybe a chance I wasn’t going to stick there,” Jones said. “You never know for sure. Once I got the call to come here, that’s when it started to become a little more real.
“My friends knew how much fun I had in L.A. and how much I liked it there. I think when I got traded here, they were excited and they knew that it was a bit of an opportunity for me to play some games.”
It also reunited Jones with Dillon, both of whom are represented by Titan Sports Management, both of whom understood well the uncomfortable rhythms of serving as reserves in the NHL, both of whom came to San Jose via trade; in Nov. 2014, Dallas swapped Dillon for Jason Demers and a third-round pick. When Dillon heard the Sharks had acquired Jones, he asked his representatives for Jones’s phone number. Soon, Jones invited him for a few rounds at Seymour Golf & Country Club, a private course where Jones is a member, and they skated together along with several other NHLers in the Vancouver area.
“You could tell there was something about him, a swagger and a confidence knowing I’ve got to come in, I’ve got to do well, and most teams this day and age, you’ve got to have a good start to your season, otherwise you fall behind,” Dillon said. “I think it was not just important to have a good season, but to have a good start, get your foot on the gas. He’s understood that.”
Said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who spent three weeks with Jones on Team Canada at the 2010 world junior championships: “It’s just business as usual for him. That’s the beauty of him. He’s very confident in his own abilities. He’s come in, I haven’t noticed any kind of bumps, any highs or lows, he’s just doing his job.”
Several years before he and Dillon crossed paths on the minor youth circuit, Jones hadn’t even settled into the crease. Everyone took turns playing goalie then, but Jones seemed to enjoy it more than most, accepting a few more chances at the position. That Christmas, his parents bought him goalie pads, old-school types that kept him hooked.
“That was a very good Christmas for me,” Jones said, though these days aren’t so bad either.