VANCOUVER – They were one of the most deadly combos in the USHL, so it’s only fair that Tri-City Storm defensemen Zac Jones and partner Ronnie Attard were snapped up within just a few picks of each other at the 2019 draft. Jones was courting questions from reporters when I informed him that Attard had been chosen after him, prompting an enthusiastic “That’s awesome!” from Jones. There is one small hitch, however.
Jones was taken 68th overall by the New York Rangers, while Attard was snapped up with the 72nd pick by the rival Philadelphia Flyers. Nevertheless, Jones was ecstatic for his buddy.
“I’m so proud of him,” Jones said. “Him and I worked so hard this year. I’m excited for him and I’m excited to play against him – that should be a fun rivalry.”
Jones was a breakout star for the Storm this season, using great edgework and mobility to zip the puck up the ice and create offense. Not only is he a great fit for the rebuilding Rangers (who had a great second day of the draft after clinching Kaapo Kakko on Day 1), but New York is a fantastic spot for him, too.
“My family is from Binghamton, N.Y., so they’re all pumped right now,” Jones said. “I can’t wait to be a Ranger.”
Along with helping Tri-City win the USHL regular season title, Jones and Attard also won gold for Team USA at the World Jr. A Challenge in December. Along the way, Attard set a USHL record for goals by a defenseman when he scored No. 20, ending the season with 30.
Already 20 years old, Attard had been passed over twice in the draft, but a big summer saw his skating accelerate, while his game got smarter. Playing with Jones didn’t hurt, either.
“The time and space he makes, he can find me anywhere on the ice,” Attard said. “That worked out well for us.”
In fact, Attard cited Jones as the No. 1 reason for his improvement, with increased confidence (aided by coach Anthony Noreen) coming second.
“From Day 1, we came in and said we’re going to be the best ‘D’ pair in the league,” Jones said. “That’s what we said and it worked out pretty well for us.”
Attard could have gone to Western Michigan University this past season, but decided his development would be aided by being a big fish with Tri-City. He’ll join the Broncos next season, where the Michigan native gets to play near home and for veteran coach Andy Murray.
Meanwhile, Jones will head out east to UMass, where the Minutemen have turned things around on the backs of blueliners such as Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro.
“I love their coaching staff with Greg Carvel and you can just look at the defensemen they’ve developed,” Jones said. “They weren’t in a good spot when I committed there, but I knew they would get to the right spot because of that coaching staff.”
As it turned out, UMass is coming off its best season ever and first-ever berth in the Frozen Four final.
The draft is a place where dreams come true for all the kids selected, but it was extra-heartening to see the bond between Jones and Attard play out in real time. Jones even had a little fun with his buddy, sneaking over to Attard’s media availability and using a pen as a microphone to grill his ‘D’ partner. He even addressed the pending Rangers-Flyers rivalry in their lives.
“Are we still gonna be friends?” Jones asked.
“I think we can make it work,” Attard responded with a smile.
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