116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — Patience.
It’s hard to have it sometimes when you’re an athlete. The natural tendency is to want everything and want it now.
But Hunter Jones knows forbearance is a necessity when it comes to his professional hockey career.
The 21-year-old goaltender got bumped down to the ECHL and Iowa Heartlanders to start this season after spending the entire American Hockey League 2020-21 campaign with the Iowa Wild in Des Moines. The Heartlanders play their inaugural game Friday night at Xtream Arena against the Kansas City Mavericks.
Jones was a second-round pick of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in 2019, someone who, because of his draft status, has a certain amount of expectations placed upon him. Going from hockey’s top minor league to the tier below doesn’t sound especially promising, but it’s all part of the deal here.
“I definitely knew that with the number of goaltenders Minnesota had, that a couple of guys were probably going to spend some time down here,” Jones said. “Obviously, one of us had to go down first. That’s the way pro hockey is. Myself being a younger guy, I’m going to have to learn and adapt, enjoy the ride and just keep getting better every day. That’s just kind of the mindset I’m going to have.”
As Jones mentioned, Minnesota has a plethora of goalies in its system.
Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen are the NHL guys. Veteran Andrew Hammond (who has NHL experience) spent all last season on the Wild’s taxi squad and signed a one-year, two-way deal with Minnesota over the summer.
He’s in the AHL right now with Dereck Baribeau. Like Jones, Baribeau has a NHL contract, though Jones is younger and in just the second year of his three-year entry level deal, as opposed to Baribeau being in his final year.
Thus, Jones is in Coralville. The Heartlanders’ other goaltender is Trevin Kozlowski, who signed an AHL contract with the Iowa Wild over the summer.
“I’m really fortunate to be down here and be with a new franchise,” Jones said. “It’s been great so far. Try to win some hockey games and whatever happens, happens after that. While I’m here, I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.”
Jones settled in with the Iowa Wild last season after a rough beginning that saw him give up 17 goals in his first three games. He finished the abbreviated AHL season with an .886 save percentage and 3.50 goals against average, compiling a 9-9-1 record.
From Brantford, Ontario (Wayne Gretzky’s hometown), he played major junior hockey with the Peterborough Petes. He quickly learned the pro game is way, way different: both in the way you need to prepare and, obviously, the skill of the players and pace of the game.
Jones was part of Minnesota’s preseason camp last month, where he spent a lot of time paired with Talbot. One thing he said he learned from that experience was letting the play come to him more.
In other words, patience. There’s that word again.
“You kind of sit back and watch them play, they are more technically sound in the net,” Jones said. “They let the puck come, they’re just more positionally sound rather than scrambled. I think younger goaltenders, we tend to get a little scrambly sometimes instead of just taking a step back and letting the play come to us. That’s the biggest thing.”
“I like his work ethic,” Heartlanders Coach Gerry Fleming. “He is the first guy on the ice every morning. He works hard in the gym, understands that to play at this level and beyond this level, your conditioning is paramount.”
At 6-foot-4, Jones has the requisite size NHL teams seek today in their goaltenders, with reports saying he also has good athletic ability.
“He doesn’t have much wasted movement,” Fleming said. “His movements are pretty good. He definitely needs to improve on his footwork a little bit, but there are a lot of positive signs moving forward with his game as well.”
“I felt like I grew a lot as a person, on and off the ice, last year, so that’s all you can ask for,” Jones said. “Keep trending in the right direction. I’m a young goaltender, so I’ve got lots of time to keep working at it. If I keep trending in the right direction, good things will happen.”
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