After spending the last four seasons developing at the University of North Dakota, former 2002 third round pick, defenseman Matt Jones signed with the Phoenix Coyotes organization this summer.
He debuted for the team earlier this month for the Pacific Rookie Tournament in San Jose, California. While Jones made his presence known on the ice with his peers, he also went on to win over Coyotes management with his professional off-ice approach and strong on-ice performance. Since then, the Lisle, Illinois native he has been participating in the Coyotes NHL camp.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Jones at a preseason game against the Mighty Ducks at the Pond in Anaheim, California. He talked about joining the Coyotes this summer and his experiences since then.
HF: Can you talk about your experience while at UND?
MJ: It was a great time. I was there for four years. We won the McNaughton Cup in my junior year and we made to the national championships during my senior year. We had a great run and a great experience. I made a lot of lifelong friends. I grew a lot as a person and a player too.
HF: Last year’s squad had its share of bad bounces and heartbreak. How big was it to come together as a unit and make that final push for the championships?
MJ: Oh it was huge. We had a lot of great leaders on the team last season. We had a great coaching staff that kept us together and we worked hard for each other when it counted most.
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HF: How was it signing your first professional contract with the Coyotes over the summer?
MJ: It was great. It was something that you dream about all the time when you’re younger. When you work hard to get to a level like this, it is nice to be rewarded with a contract. It’s also a huge honor to be a part of this great organization.
HF: You debuted in a Coyotes uniform at the 2005 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament up in San Jose earlier this fall. How did it feel to skate against some of peers and future top rivals in the league?
MJ: It was great all-around experience. It was the first time that I was able to meet a lot of the people in the organization and the other prospects. It was nice to come in and get to play with some guys that may be future teammates down the road. Everything was new to me, so it was nice to get a feel for how things work in the organization. It was also nice to get some work in on the ice just before heading into the main camp.
HF: The Coyotes are showing a lot of strength when it comes to their defensive prospects. You got to skate with Keith Ballard, Joe Callahan and Keith Yandle to name a few guys. How was it to come together and get some playing time together?
MJ: Overall, it was great. Everyone was great and we all worked very well together. We were all sticking up for each other like we’ve been playing together for years. It was a good time to also learn a little bit about each one of them too.
HF: After completing the tournament, you returned to Phoenix and went into the team’s NHL camp. How did you prepare yourself and what was it like to participate in a pro camp?
MJ: I honestly didn’t know what to expect. A lot of the veterans have been great from day one. They’ve been giving us pointers and helping us out. I’ve been taking it one day at a time, I’m trying to learn from the vets and absorb as much as I can. It is almost as if you have to pinch yourself every once in while. I mean, you look up and see all the names and talent you’re surrounded by. It’s definitely an honor.
HF: What is like to be in a locker room with so much talent, experience and leadership?
MJ: From the very first day of camp, the older guys were coming up and introducing themselves. Out on the ice, they’re talking to us a lot and helping us out. In my first preseason game against the Minnesota Wild, I was paired with Cale Hulse. He was great from the get go. I learned a lot from him.
HF: Did you take anything away from the Minnesota game or just from the NHL level, that you might not have realized or noticed when you watched it from the sidelines?
MJ: Definitely the speed. You have to be that much quicker moving the puck. With the rules changes, you have to be a lot smarter on your feet in the d-zone. You have to focus on your positional game as well.
HF: Having spent a couple weeks with the players who have NHL experience, has that made you rethink your approach or views to the pro game in any matter?
MJ: For sure. There is tons of mental preparation that goes into it. You can’t come out here, have a bad night and be ok with it. You have to be mentally prepared because the level at which things transpire is so fast. The tempo will get you if you’re not ready.
HF: You play a very tough, in your face style of game. How do you maintain that level of play and keep yourself from falling victim to the stricter obstruction rules?
MJ: You have to be smart about your approach. If you get caught out of position, there’s not much you can do without taking a penalty. You have to ready for every game, every shift. You have to be focused and keep track of where everyone is on the ice. You have to be extremely sound positionally.
HF: Looking back on how fast everything has seemed to come together over the last month or so, what has it been like for you?
MJ: It’s been a great experience. I enjoy coming to the rink every day and listening to the veterans in the locker room and gathering what they have to offer. Overall, it’s awesome how the organization takes care of you.
HF: Can you tell me your expectations for next year and a little bit down the road with Phoenix?
MJ: Most of all, I’m honored to be apart of this organization. I can’t wait to start learning as much as I can to help my development. I want to help the Coyotes out and do my best. I look forward to get out there and playing on an everyday basis.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.