January 14, 2014

From NEHJ: Bobcat brotherhood

By Dan Guttenplan

Kellen (left) and Connor Jones are the fifth set of brothers in NCAA history to tally 100 career points while playing together. (left: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal; right: Quinnipiac Athletics)

Quinnipiac hockey coach Rand Pecknold first heard of the Jones brothers when his former assistant, Ben Syer, went on a scouting trip to the British Columbia Hockey League in 2009.

Syer was tasked with finding a player — or players — who could change the complexion of the Bobcats program, but he couldn’t take his eyes off a pair of fourth-line forwards on the Vernon Vipers.

“(Syer) called to tell me about two 16-year-old forwards on the fourth line,” Pecknold said. “He thought they were great players, great energy. He said, ‘We have to get on these guys.’ They still had a long way to go. They were small at the time, but he loved the way they played.”

That scouting mission netted the Quinnipiac program two eventual 100-point scorers in Kellen and Connor Jones — a pair of future captains who Pecknold says “took a top-20 program and made it a top-five program.”

Soon after Syer’s scouting mission to British Columbia, Pecknold (Bedford, N.H.) and his staff offered the natives of Montrose, B.C., an opportunity to join a rising ECAC Hockey program. But the courting process for the Jones brothers was different from most courting processes. From the beginning, the brothers let it be known that they would come as a package deal. In addition, the brothers’ father, Connor Jones, bucked the standard recruiting tradition of pushing for his kids to join a college program at the earliest allowable moment. He thought his sons would benefit from another year with the Vernon Vipers.

“It definitely was different,” Pecknold said. “It’s unique recruiting twins because you call one of them, and 98 percent of the time, the other one is right next to him. I’d talk to Kellen or Connor for a while, and then one of them would pass the phone to the other. I told them they could come a year earlier, but their parents wanted them to fill out and get bigger. I was OK with it because they were only going to get better for me.”

Although the Jones brothers started playing hockey right after they learned to walk, playing together on the same forward line was a new experience at the time of their recruitment. Kellen had played defense until he was 15, and they were just starting to find their rhythm in their second season with the Vernon Vipers, when they led the squad to another BCHL championship.

“We always thought we played better together, and it gave us an edge against other players and teams,” Connor Jones said. “Plus it is always great having your best friend around.”

With matching 5-foot-9, 155-pound frames, the Jones brothers came to Quinnipiac for the 2010-11 season as freshmen. Although Pecknold realized pairing the two together might lead to occasional size mismatches in the opponent’s favor, he felt their collective energy and speed could negate any disadvantages along the boards.

“They came in as freshmen, and they were on the first line and the power play,” Pecknold said. “I had them apart maybe one game over their entire career. It was early in their freshman year, and I tried to wake them up when they were in a slump. I realized pretty quickly this wasn’t going to work. They don’t even like being on opposite teams in practice.”

Connor (9-15-24) and Kellen (8-14-22) combined for 46 points as freshmen, but more than that, they elevated the competitiveness of the Quinnipiac practices. A tradition was born in which the Bobcats practice each day with the same intensity with which they play in games. Rarely did a practice pass without the Jones brothers demanding more from each other or their teammates.

“If we were on separate teams, I’m sure there would be an instance when we’d be sent off for penalties together, as Coach knows all too well,” Connor Jones said.

Although the Jones brothers posted promising numbers as freshmen, their collective takeaway following the season was that they both needed to add strength to become elite players in the conference. In the summer before their sophomore season, they trained under Quinnipiac strength coach Brijesh Patel, adding 10 pounds each along with plenty of strength and speed.

“That transition was tough,” Kellen Jones said. “There were bigger and better players, every game was intense and the details are so important. We really had to work on getting stronger and faster to be better players.”

Connor and Kellen took the ice as sophomores as more complete players, making more of an impact in the Quinnipiac defensive zone as well as the faceoff circle. Connor, a center, led the team with 41 points, while Kellen collected 36. The brothers were named co-MVPs of the team following the season.

“Their work ethic off the ice and in the weight room makes them two of the best guys we’ve ever had,” Pecknold said. “Their skating has improved, both of their shots have improved. Neither of them shot particularly well when we were recruiting them, and now they can wire the puck. They won two national championships in Vernon, and they didn’t have to play a lot of defense. They’re very good defensive hockey players now.”

In the last season and a half, the Jones brothers have factored in to some of the biggest goals in program history. During the team’s run to the NCAA tournament championship game last season, both players ranked in the top 10 in scoring for the entire tournament. Connor had a goal and an assist in Quinnipiac’s first-ever NCAA tournament win over Canisius in the first round and came back with two assists in a win over Union in the East Regional final. Kellen had a goal and an assist against Union in the East Regional final and added another goal in Quinnipiac’s victory over St. Cloud State in the Frozen Four.

In November of this season, Connor and Kellen each joined the 100-career-point club. The twins are the fifth set of brothers in NCAA history to tally 100 career points each while playing together and the first since St. Lawrence’s Pete and Tim Lappin in 1988. Before the Lappins, Ohio State’s Paul and Perry Pooley (1981-84), Ferris State’s Peter and Paul Lowden (1983-87) and Cornell’s Doug and Dave Ferguson (1964-67) all tallied 100 points apiece playing together.

“I couldn’t even begin to put a value on the impact they’ve made on the program,” Pecknold said. “They elevated the culture. It was always good, now it’s great. One of the things that makes us win is how good we are in practice. They make us go. They are A-plus kids with phenomenal character. They’re the type of kids you get lucky to get once every 10 or 15 years. We were lucky enough to get two at once.”

Twitter: @Dan_Guttenplan

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