Martin Jones remembers the first time he was blocking shots in front of a big crowd inside an NHL arena. He was 13. The Vancouver Canucks were holding their annual skills competition at what was then GM Place. It was a charity fundraiser, and his peewee team had been selected to go through the same drills as the pros.
Young Martin felt at home in the building. His father, Harvey, was an executive in the Canucks’ front office and was the administrator in charge of the 18,910-seat rink. There were a handful of times when young Martin got to hang around the dressing room when the players were there, giving him a taste of what was to come. Still, Jones played down the idea that his family connection gave him a leg up in his pursuit of an NHL career. “I don’t know about that, but just being around it did help grow my passion for the game,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting as a young kid, getting to see NHL players, getting to NHL games.”
At 28, Jones is now in his fourth season as the San Jose Sharks’ starting goalie, fulfilling the promise he showed in youth hockey when his peewee team not only skated with the Canucks but also won the 2003 Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament, considered the pinnacle of youth hockey competition. And Jones wasn’t the only current Sharks member on that team, the North Shore Winter Club. Although 18 months younger than the goalie, left winger Evander Kane was Jones’ teammate at both events. “He’s always really focused on his performance,” said Kane of Jones, with whom he was reunited in San Jose after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last February. “Really, I look at him now and play with him now, and not much has changed.”
Somehow, though, the two have different recollections of what happened when Kane faced Jones in a shootout drill during that skills competition 15 years ago. “I remember scoring in front of all the fans at GM Place,” Kane said. “I was pretty surprised, but happy because he usually stopped me.”
That, Jones said, isn’t how he remembers it, adding, “We’ll have to check the tape.”
Jones’ path to an NHL starting job has been a circuitous one. Disappointed at not being drafted at 18 in 2008, he got a tryout with the Los Angeles Kings that September and signed an entry-level deal in October before rejoining the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. After he concluded his junior career in 2010, Jones spent three seasons with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. In 2013-14, he was elevated to the backup role in L.A. behind Jonathan Quick for two seasons. During the Kings’ run to the 2014 Stanley Cup, Jones made two relief appearances and stopped the seven shots he faced.
Less than a week before he was about to become an RFA, the Kings traded Jones to the Boston Bruins June 26, 2015 in the deal that sent Milan Lucic to Los Angeles. Four days later, the Bruins traded Jones to the Sharks for a first-round draft pick and prospect Sean Kuraly. Sharks GM Doug Wilson said the team envisioned the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Jones as its future No. 1 goalie for reasons that went beyond the 34 NHL games he had played to that point. “We had seen him a lot in Manchester,” said Wilson, alluding to the fact the Kings’ farm team in New Hampshire was a geographic rival to the Sharks’ farm team that was then based in Worcester, Mass. “We did a lot of research into what type of goalies were having success in the league – body type and style. To get a guy at that point who was just beginning his prime as a goalie, we felt was a great fit.”
The Sharks signed the 25-year-old Jones to a three-year, $9-million contract one day after acquiring him. On July 1, 2017 – a little more than a year after Jones backstopped San Jose to its first appearance in the Cup final – they locked him up with a six-year, $34.5-million extension.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer says Jones’ consistency is what gives the team confidence in him. DeBoer also described him as “unflappable,” noting that Jones has taken recent changes in goalie equipment in stride as one example. “I don’t think that stuff affects ‘Jonesy,’ ” DeBoer said. “Whether you let him wear Michelin pads or nothing, he’s going to go out and do what he does.”
Jones developed the technical side of his game early, building on a foundation that he established while attending a goaltending school run by Ian Clark, then the Canucks’ goalie coach. Nowadays, Jones is concentrating more on improving his ability to react quickly to odd bounces and broken plays. “When you get to the next level,” he said, “it’s more about adding a second layer, where you’re making saves outside the box and being more reactive.”
Jones has averaged 63 games per season with the Sharks and, he said, that accumulated experience makes it easier to rebound mentally after a bad outing. Has he discovered a trick to that? “I don’t have any tricks,” he said. “You just move on.”
Statistically, there has been a slight drop-off in performance over Jones’ first three seasons with San Jose. But Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said the goalie’s contributions show up in ways that aren’t reflected in his save percentage or goals-against average. “I wouldn’t say his numbers have jumped off the chart,” Pavelski said, “but there were just times where we would have a team down to 20-25 shots, but a couple of them would be breakaways at crucial times, or there’d be a 2-on-1, and he comes across and makes a big save. It really keeps your team going.”
Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon is pretty much Jones’ year-round friend and neighbor. In the summer, Dillon lives about 30 minutes from Jones’ North Vancouver home with a view of the downtown skyline. During the season, the two live a few doors apart from each other in a San Jose residential-entertainment complex popular with several Sharks over the years.
Away from the rink, Dillon said Jones is the same calm figure he is in the crease. “And if you think he’s a good goalie, he’s just as good of a golfer,” said Dillon, adding that Jones could eventually challenge Pavelski – a regular at Lake Tahoe’s celebrity golf tournament each summer – as the team’s top linksman.
On the ice, Jones still hopes to take the sting of losing the 2016 Stanley Cup final to Pittsburgh and transform it into a positive experience that leads to a different outcome next time. “Obviously it’s tough when you lose,” Jones said, “but as time passes you kind of realize the accomplishment and things you can learn from it.”
This story appears in the January 7, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.