SACO — Defenseman Randy Jones hears his Portland Pirates teammates’ ages and laughs.

“This is a first for me, it really is,” Jones said. “Going to Oklahoma, there were three or four guys older than me, so I didn’t feel quite as ancient.”

At 32 years old, “ancient” might not be the way most people would describe themselves.

But in hockey years, for a player who has suited up for seven teams in six seasons, 32 might be viewed as borderline AARP-eligible.

“(The NHL is) where I want to be, just like every other player out there who’s not there yet,” Jones said. “I’ve been there, I’ve played some games, but I’m not content. I want to go back. I want to be there and I would like to finish off my career there.”

On his way back to the National Hockey League, Jones landed with the Portland Pirates, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. He instantly became the oldest player on the roster by about five years, and he’s more than 10 years above the rest of the team’s average age.

“It’s a different role,” Jones said. “But, it’s one I’m happy with, it’s one I’m very fortunate that the Phoenix organization and the Pirates here were able to bring me in, and I’m very grateful and very thankful.”

He has plenty for which to be grateful throughout his career.

Getting started

Jones began his career in earnest in 1998 with the Cobourg Cougars of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. Despite growing up in New Brunswick and being eligible to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Jones chose the OPJHL because there he wouldn’t be in danger of losing eligibility to play in the NCAA.

“At the time, it was a big decision for me,” Jones said. “I talked it over and over with my family, and tried to come up with what the best decision was for me. I felt trying to get a scholarship and going to school in the states was a good fit for me. It was a good situation, and that’s what I wanted to work toward.”

Jones found his place with Clarkson University in New York, where he was recruited by Mark Morris, now the head coach of the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.

“I was there for the two years, and then left and signed with (the Philadelphia Flyers) after two years, but I loved it there. I loved every bit of it,” Jones said. “I still talk to some guys I went to school with there. I truly enjoyed it. Honestly, it was two of the best years of my life.”

The allure of playing in the NHL was too great, though, and after two seasons with the Golden Knights, during which Jones had 22 goals and 31 assists for 53 points in 67 games, he signed a professional contract.

Pros come calling

After two seasons of playing primarily in the AHL — including playing alongside current Portland Pirates assistant coach and recent AHL Hall of Fame inductee John Slaney — and another during which he split time between the AHL and NHL, Jones enjoyed his most productive stint in the world’s top hockey league from 2006-08, playing 137 games with nine goals, 44 assists and 96 penalty minutes.

After 47 games with the Flyers in 2008-09, and a few in the AHL with the Phantoms, Jones found a new home in Los Angeles in the fall of 2009, after only a few games in the AHL.

“I was (with the Flyers) for six years, and I’m very grateful to that organization and Mr. (general manager Paul) Holmgren for bringing me in and working with me and everything else,” Jones said. “I learned a lot about the game there. It was a great way to start off my career there. I had a lot of good times there and it’s a situation I’ll never forget.”

But instead of forging another six-year relationship with the Kings in Los Angeles, the move to the West coast was short-lived, as were Jones’ subsequent moves to Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. He did play at least 39 NHL games — and none in the AHL — for each of those three squads. But each deal lasted only one year.

And then, the NHL disappeared.

Lockout, and the aftermath

A one-team-player-turned-journeyman, Jones found himself out of work during the National Hockey League lockout.

“It was a situation where … I didn’t want to go overseas, I wanted to stay here,” Jones said. “I just had my first born in September, so the timing … you never want to go through a lockout, but the timing worked out pretty good and I got to spend some time with her in the first few months, and that was great.”

But it wasn’t hockey.

“When the lockout was over, I wanted to get back to playing hockey,” Jones said. “The season before, we didn’t make the playoffs in Winnipeg, so from April to January, yeah, you’re on the ice practicing and staying in shape, but to play a game, it’s a big difference.”

Jones signed with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League for the remainder of the season. There, he played in 18 regular-season games and 17 playoff contests, registering a goal and six assists.

“I knew I wasn’t done playing hockey, and I wanted to get back into it,” Jones said. “I needed to play, and Oklahoma was the spot for me, and I had a great time.”

The next step

That great time didn’t translate into another contract, though. The 2013-14 campaign began and Jones was once again not on an NHL or AHL roster.

Until the Coyotes came calling.

Jones jumped at the opportunity. But he’d missed training camp. And he’d missed the first two weeks of the season.

“You miss training camp, you miss the first couple weeks of the season, it’s going to take some time to get the rust out,” Jones said. “That’s what I’m doing now.”

“We have to give him some time. He had no preparation, he just jumped into the middle of the season,” Pirates head coach Ray Edwards said. “That’s a hard thing to do.

“The one thing for him mentally is, he’s a competitor and he’s a perfectionist, and he wants to be good now,” Edwards continued. “Sometimes when you’re like that, it doesn’t go the way you think it should go. You start to question things. That’s what we’re talking to him about is, ‘Hey, let’s play 10 games and then let’s evaluate and see where you’re at.'”

In his first game of the season, Jones went to block a shot and caught the puck on the wrist. After three shifts, his first game back was over.

But he didn’t miss any time, thanks in part to a light early-season schedule, and he returned to the ice for a pair of games against the Worcester Sharks. He hasn’t registered a point yet from his defensive position, nor has he taken a penalty.

But that wasn’t necessarily what Edwards and the Pirates’ and Coyotes’ staff were looking for.

“Now we have a guy who’s been through a lot,” Edwards said. “He can help our young defense. I notice it already, just going back for pucks, he has the confidence to make plays that some guys don’t. And that’s half the battle sometimes.

“The biggest thing is, when you’re under duress or facing adversity, in games, after games, you have a guy there that calms everything down,” Edwards added. “He’s an easy guy to talk to, he’s a helpful guy. He’s seen every situation, and we can lean on him for experience in those situations. It’s nice as a coaching staff to have someone like that, too.”

Comfort off the ice as well as on the surface has played a big part in Jones’ assimilation, as well.

“I enjoy it, I have a good time with it, and these are good kids here,” Jones said. “I think a few of them will even tell you I’m one of the more irresponsible 32-year-olds they know.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like to have a good time, I’m still a kid at heart, but I also bring experience here. I’ve been there, done that, so there’s some things I can teach along the way, especially seeing how young some of these guys are.”

And the younger the player, the bigger the dream.

Though Jones is doing well to prove that some older players — perhaps even the ancient — can also dream big.

“If you sit there and say, ‘Name the one thing I have to do,’ I don’t think I could,” Jones said. “I just have to go out and play my game. Just because I might be a little bit older in hockey years, but I still feel I can still play and contribute.

“Until I completely hang them up, I’m not going to stop making it back.”


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