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Goalie Martin Jones has raised the Stanley Cup. His name is etched on it. He has the ring. But he earned that in the backup role with the Los Angeles Kings.
With the San Jose Sharks, he hopes to count off the last seconds to a Cup-clinching win from the net, not the bench.
Jones, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, was drawn to goaltending at an early age. He tells Top Shelf, "I started playing goalie full-time around 10. Before that, everybody always just kind of took turns. And I just always took a few more turns than the other kids.
"I don't know if I could put into words why, but it's just something that I always enjoyed. And the more and more I played, the more I kind of fell in love with it as a kid."
Jones grew up as a Canucks fan. His father worked for the organization. "I got to go to a lot of games, which was awesome."
Once in a while, he was able to interact with the players. "Our PeeWee team actually got to do the SuperSkills with the Canucks, their team skills competition. So that was pretty cool."
When he viewed NHL games, Jones studied goaltending styles. "I pretty much watched everybody. I mean, always liked the Canucks goalies -- Luongo, Cloutier, Alex Auld, all those guys. But I pretty much watched everybody. I kind of liked to see how guys did things differently, just kind of see what works for different guys."
He began playing junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen in 2006 and served as backup. But he had already been aiming at the NHL for quite some time.
"Pretty much any kid that's playing bantam hockey or higher is thinking about the NHL. That was the goal for sure."
Eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2008, he went undrafted. Not being selected didn't put a dent in his ambitions.
"Not really, to be honest. It was disappointing, for sure. But it never really got me down to the point where I didn't think I could go back and have a good year and hopefully make a team somewhere. But I was lucky enough to sign a contract with L.A. right after that, so that was great."
Getting a tryout with the Kings and having them offer a three-year-contract was tremendously validating for Jones, a reward for all the hard work he'd been putting in through his entire life.
"It was awesome. It's not too often that you get that, as an 18-year-old, undrafted, to get a contract out of training camp. So that was obviously a great step in the right direction."
The Kings reassigned him to the Hitmen. He grabbed the starting goalie role. He set a team record in 2008-09 with 45 wins that season, leading the league in the category. Jones and the Hitmen won 12 consecutive games in the playoffs, before falling in six games in the Western Hockey League championship series.
"That was my first year as a starter. We had a great team there. I think we lost to Kelowna in the Finals that year. And we ended up winning the league the next year. So obviously, we had a pretty good team there, as well."
In 2009-10, he was the WHL goaltender of the year and won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
Entering the pro ranks, Jones was chosen for the 2011 AHL All-Star game. By 2013, he was making his mark in the NHL, displaying elite level talent in goal. In 2014, he shared in the excitement as the Kings captured the Cup, backing up Jonathan Quick. "To be part of that was pretty special," Jones says.
He had his day with the Cup. "Lots of family and friends came over. I took it to my minor hockey rink and golf course, had a little party at my parents house. Just tried to share it with as many people as I could, basically."
As satisfying as that whole experience was, Jones craved an opportunity to one day experience it as the man making the saves, when his team hoisted the Cup.
"Absolutely. Getting a taste of it my first year in the league was very special, but obviously, it does, like you said, make you very hungry to go out and get another one as the starting goalie."
His time in L.A. proved to be a good training ground, an important internship, as Jones honed his game.
"Obviously, for goalies, it can be a little tougher to break right into the league as a starting goalie. But my time in L.A was very valuable, playing behind Quickie, getting to watch him every day. And working with Bill Ranford and the coaching staff over there -- It was a big couple of years for my development as a goalie, as a person. So, yeah, it was good for me."
It's rare to be able to trade for a franchise goalie. But Sharks GM Doug Wilson was able to pull off that feat. In 2015, with Jones on the brink of becoming a restricted free agent, the Kings traded him to the Bruins, along with Colin Miller and a first-round pick, for Milan Lucic. Was Jones destined to languish in the backup role to Tuukka Rask?
Jones never donned a Bruins sweater. Almost immediately, Doug Wilson wrested the goalie from Boston in exchange for a first-round pick, plus prospect Sean Kuraly. The Sharks then inked Jones to a three-year deal.
"It shocking getting traded, for sure. That was my first time dealing with it. So definitely a shock. But it was about 34 hours after that I got the call that I was going to San Jose. So that was pretty exciting."
He knew that San Jose believed in his potential to be the starter, their franchise goalie.
That was validating.
"Absolutely. Just the chance to get to play and be a starting goalie was very exciting to me and then, you throw in the team that we have here, they're always a good, playoff team. So yeah, it was very exciting."
Jones quickly felt that San Jose was an ideal spot for him. "Anybody that you talk to that's been around our dressing room will tell you the same thing -- it's a great room. It's a lot of fun being around some of these guys. Right when I got there, they were great with me and made me feel very comfortable and like I was home, for sure."
Jones has justified Wilson's faith in him. In 2015-16, He was third in the league with 37 wins, tied for second with six shutouts and set a team record for the longest shutout streak: 234 minutes, 33 seconds. He led the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final berth. It was gratifying to accomplish so much, but frustrating to wind up a couple of games short of the ultimate prize.
"It's disappointing at the time, for sure," Jones says. "I think, as more time passes, you kind of realize how good of an achievement it was, to make it to the Finals and the year that we had. But again, it just makes you hungrier to go and get one."
His confidence has continued to grow over the years. "I think I've always been pretty good technically, a good foundation, a solid technical goaltender. But for me, being more established in the league, having years under my belt, it's a lot easier to just kind relax and just focus on playing. In your first couple of years, you feel like you're kind of fighting for your life in the league. You're just trying to get established and get your foot in the door. But having had a few years in the league, I can kind of relax and just focus on playing."
In the summer of 2017, Jones signed a six-year extension with the Sharks, running through 2024. That stability can only help him achieve even greater success.
"It definitely helps. It's just something you don't have to think about for six years now. I can just focus on playing hockey. Yeah, it definitely makes it easier for me."
As the 2018-19 season opened, Jones unveiled a new mask. "I get a new mask every year, so I just let the painter have at it and he's done a great job. So I just let him kind of freewheel for me."
He's not one for superstitions. "I try not to be too superstitious. You have a routine before the games that you like to do. But yeah, I try to keep it pretty casual."
Like all great goalies, Jones has a gift for concentration. He can remain zeroed in, even when he hasn't seen shots for an extended segment of a game.
"I don't know if there's any trick to it. It's just something you probably get better at with experience and every goalie's going to be a little different with how you handle it. But yeah, honestly, when you're in the heat of an NHL hockey game, it's not overly difficult to stay focused."
For all he has accomplished, Jones doesn't plan to rest on his laurels. "You're always trying to get better, for sure. Like I was saying before, it's nice to be established in the league and sort of have that experience to fall back on,. You can kind of build confidence from just having that experience and having some of that success that I've had in my career. But there's not any player in the league that's not going to be trying to get better in practice every day and in the off-season and things like that."
As a new season gets under way, Jones isn't hung up on statistics and percentages. "For me, it's about the results. As a goalie, you're trying to win hockey games. If you're winning hockey games, the rest of that stuff, I think, sort of takes care of itself. So yeah, for me, it's about winning."
Jones is thrilled to have two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson join the D-corps in front of him. "It's very exciting. It's not very often you can get a player of that caliber. So we're very excited to have him. And it's a very good fit."
Given this season's roster, Jones has good reason to be optimistic about the Sharks' chances for returning to the Final. "Last year was a good step forward. We had a great year, a really, I thought, consistent year. And obviously, having Kane for the whole year this year and you add in Erik Karlsson, yeah, it's exciting. I think everybody in our dressing room is very excited to get the season going."