Interview of the Week: Ward Jones

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking to one of the SHL’s toughest and most interesting players, Ward Jones.  Ward, thanks for speaking with us.

Ward Jones

WJ: I’m glad for the opportunity.

SHLD: You shocked everyone around the league this week when you announced that you intend to retire.  The announcement seemed to come from out of the blue.  You’re only 29, in the prime of your career.  You’re in good shape, and you’re putting up solid numbers.  How did you make the decision to walk away?

WJ: I started thinking about it just before the All-Star break, when I got injured.  I wound up being out for over a month, which is longer than I’ve ever been sidelined since I started in the game.  Then I thought about it some more after I got hurt again in the last couple weeks.  It got me thinking about what’s next, what I want to do with the next chapter of my life.  And I came up with an idea, and the more people I talked to and the longer I thought about it, I realized I didn’t want to wait to get started.

SHLD: What’s the idea?

WJ: I want to develop a foundation that will provide and support youth hockey programs for kids in the inner cities.  Basically, I want to help build a pipeline for getting black and minority kids involved in the game.

SHLD: You grew up on the South Side of Chicago.  Did this idea come from your own experience?

WJ: Yeah.  I mean, hockey is a great sport, but if you’re a poor kid in the inner city, it’s really hard to get involved.  If there hadn’t been a hockey program at the community center in my neighborhood growing up, I might never have found the sport.  And if there hadn’t been coaches to encourage me and help me develop, and if there hadn’t been money available to provide me with skates and equipment, I never could have stuck with it.  Basically, a lot of lucky things had to go right for me to even have a shot at playing pro hockey.  So I want to give back, and give other kids like me a chance to do what I did.

SHLD: That’s a noble vision!  What made you decide you wanted to start your own foundation, instead of partnering with an existing group?

WJ: Well, in the past I’ve worked with The Sports Shed, which provides gear for youth teams that can’t afford it.  It’s a great program, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.  If you’re going to really support youth hockey in the inner cities, you need to build or keep up rinks.  You need to find coaches.  You need to pay for uniforms and equipment.  You need to pay for travel.  There are great programs in a few cities, but they’re all working on their own, and they’re all desperate for cash.  That’s where I can help.

SHLD: But you could start building your foundation while you’re continuing to play.  And you could keep playing for several more seasons.  Why leave now?

WJ: A couple of reasons.  For one thing, the league is getting younger and faster.  I’m a lot of things, but “fast” ain’t one of ‘em.  I’m the kind of guy who wants to play every day, and who knows how long I’m able to do that?  I barely got to play more than half the season this year [Jones appeared in 37 games].  But more importantly, I’m the kind of guy that when I’m doing something, I put my whole heart and soul into it.  A project like this, if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it all the way.  And I don’t want to wait.  It’s too important.

SHLD: You’ve had to deal with racism throughout your career, whether it’s getting taunted by fans in Hershey or getting jokingly called a gangster by a radio announcer.  Did that factor into your decision at all?

WJ: I definitely thought about that.  If I quit now, am I letting the racists win?  But then I thought of it a different way.  I’m not going to make the Hall of Fame, and no one’s retiring my number.  Five years after I leave, no one’s going to remember me.  But if I can get this foundation going, and down the road five or ten or a hundred black kids wind up playing in the league thanks to my foundation?  That’s the legacy I want more than anything.

SHLD: You’ve been a strong voice for diversity and inclusion throughout your career.  Will you remain involved in those efforts within the SHL now that you’re no longer active?

WJ: You better believe it.  When I made my announcement, the Commissioner’s office called and offered me a job with the league to work on improving diversity.  I had to turn it down, because I’m focused on the foundation, but I’m still going to speak out.  Y’all ain’t getting rid of me that easy.

SHLD: Glad to hear it!  Well, thank you, Ward, for a very thoughtful interview.  And here’s hoping that your foundation is a success.

WJ: Thanks a lot.  I’ll keep everybody posted.

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2019 SHL Week 15 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated LW Stellan Fisker from the disabled list.  The 32-year-old Fisker missed nearly four weeks after suffering an upper-body injury.  It was the second DL stint of the season for the winger, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first week of the season and has missed a total of 25 games so far on the year.  In order to make room for Fisker’s return, the Tigres returned LW Carl Bleyer to their farm club in Maine.  Bleyer has appeared in 10 games with Quebec, and recorded 1 assist during that time.
  • On Wednesday, the Washington Galaxy placed D Ambroz Melicar on the disabled list.  The Galaxy called up the 23-year-old Melicar a couple of weeks ago after a strong season with their affiliate in Baltimore.  He appeared in 10 games with Washington, recording 2 assists, before suffering an upper-body injury on Tuesday that will end his season.  To replace Melicar, the Galaxy promoted D Buster Kratz from Baltimore.  Kratz, 21, was acquired from Hamilton in the Eddie Costello trade at the deadline.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Tigres placed D Ward Jones on the injured list.  Jones suffered a lower-body injury during the third period of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Hamilton, a blow that will likely end Jones’ season.  It’s the second significant injury of the season for the 29-year-old blueliner, who missed over a month with an upper-body injury that happened just before the All-Star break.  It’s rumored that this latest injury has Jones pondering retirement.  To replace Jones, the Tigres called up D Ross Hruschka from Maine.  The 19-year-old Hruschka has had a solid season with Maine, with a goal and 16 assists.

2019 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list.  Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break.  To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine.  The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
  • Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list.  Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York.  He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East.  To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa.  The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
  • On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list.  Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey.  He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks.  To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine.  Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki.  (More details here.)  After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
    • The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton.  (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper.  Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
    • The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia.  They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
    • The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello.  (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa.  They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract.  The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore.  They also released D Sheldon Harville.
    • The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner.  (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
    • Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher.  (More details here.)
  • On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list.  Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
  • Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve.  Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan.  Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season.  To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee.  The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.

2019 SHL Week 7 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Boston Badgers placed G Roger Orion on the disabled list.  Orion suffered a lower-body injury during Sunday’s 4-1 win over Washington.  He is expected to be out at least through the All-Star break.  Orion, who signed a five-year free-agent deal with Boston in the offseason, has gone 7-10-2 with a 2.75 GAA and a .916 save percentage for the Badgers.  To replace Orion on the roster, the Badgers called up netminder Jonas Schemko from their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.  In the CHL this season, Schemko has gone 7-9-2 with a 2.43 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
  • On Wednesday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Richard McKinley from the disabled list, and placed D Ward Jones on the DL.  McKinley missed nearly a month with an upper-body injury.  His return is a major boost to the Tigres’ defensive corps; he recorded 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 11 games prior to going on the DL.  Jones has registered a goal and 7 assists in 24 games so far on the season. To take Jones’ spot in the lineup, Quebec called up Serge Rimbaud from their CHL club in Maine. on Saturday The 18-year-old Rimbaud was the Tigres’ first-round draft pick this season, and he makes his SHL debut after recording 11 goals and 6 assists in 27 games with Maine.
  • The Kansas City Smoke continued their season-long blueline shuffle on Saturday, demoting Jon Rogers to their farm team in Omaha and promoting Scott Hexton back up to the big club.  The Smoke called the 23-year-old Rogers up back in Week 2; he appeared in 11 games for Kansas City and recorded a single goal and a -6 rating.  The 28-year-old Hexton was sent to Omaha three weeks ago; he lit up the CHL during his time there, recording 9 point (2 goals, 7 assists) and a +4 rating in 12 games.

Galaxy Announcer Makes Racist Joke About Jones

Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones, one of the SHL’s few black players, has been subject to racist taunts and controversies throughout his career.  This week, a loose-minded racial quip directed at Jones by a Washington Galaxy broadcaster triggered a firestorm around the league.

Doug Jacobson

The incident occurred during the third period of Tuesday’s Quebec-Washington tilt, when Jones got into a fight with Galaxy D Bruce Hogaboom.  The two traded blows with abandon, leading Washington radio color man Doug Jacobson to exclaim delightedly that it was “a real heavyweight bout!”

Replied play-by-play announcer Scott Cox, “Yes, these two are really going at it.”

“They’ve both got heavy hands,” said Jacobson.  “Now, we know Boomer got so strong from picking turnips back on the farm growing up.”  This is a running joke on Jacobson’s part; Hogaboom is a native of a small town on the Canadian prairie, and the announcer frequently claims that he grew up on a turnip farm.

After that, however, Jacobson crossed the line.  “Now, we know Jones didn’t grow up on a turnip farm,” the announcer said.  (Jones is a native of Chicago.)  “So he must have picked it up on the street corner.”

Cox tried to move on, noting that the referees were stepping in to break up the fight.

But Jacobson continued, “It makes sense.  Jones is fast and he’s a good fighter.  Fighting, running from the cops… those are important skills where he’s from.”

Jacobson’s comments were already attracting negative attention on Twitter while the game was still going on.  After the game, a reporter read the remarks to Jones and asked for comment.

Ward Jones

“I wish I was surprised,” Jones replied.  “Unfortunately, this is what it’s come to in this country.  If you’re black and you’re from the inner city, obviously you must have been in a gang.  It’s racist garbage, but it’s where we are.  Ever since the 2016 election, people in America have felt free to just spout opinions like that.”

Initially, Jacobson defended the quips, saying they were “not racial in any way.  The joke was about the fact that [Jones is] from Chicago.  Everyone knows there’s a lot of violence and gangs in Chicago.  That’s what the joke was about.  Hogaboom didn’t really grow up on a turnip farm either, you know.”

But as time went on, the blowback continued to mount.  SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell denounced Jacobson’s remarks as “inappropriate and counter to the spirit of inclusiveness we strive for in this league.”  Galaxy GM Ace Adams issued an apology to Jones.  The radio station that carries Washington’s broadcasts also apologized, and then suspended Jacobson for three weeks.

After the suspension was announced, Jacobson finally expressed regret for his remarks.  “Although I didn’t mean to be offensive, I’ve now realized that I was,” the announcer said.  “I was wrong to say what I did, and to Ward and anyone else who was offended, I’m sorry.”

Jones responded to Jacobson’s apology with mixed feelings.  “Honestly, I believe him when he says he didn’t mean to be offensive,” Jones told reporters.  “The thing is, that’s the problem.  Not with him, really, but with our society.  The fact that you see a black guy from Chicago and your first thought is ‘gang member.’  Because the joke doesn’t work if you don’t expect the audience to make that association too.”

Tigres Looking Up After Finals Loss

The SHL Finals were a wild ride for the Quebec Tigres.  They dropped the first three games, including wo at home, and appeared to be on their way to a sweep at the hands of the Anchorage Igloos’ postseason bulldozer.  Then they won the next three games, a dramatic momentum swing that had the fans at Centre Citadelle dreaming of a title.  Then, in a back-and-forth Game 7, Quebec came up just short.

In the locker room after the final game, the Tigres’ mood was slightly disappointed, but still positive.  After all, this trip to the Finals – on the heels of their first-ever season with an above-.500 record – marks them as a team on the rise in an Eastern Division that seems up for grabs.

“We didn’t get the ultimate prize,” said LW Walt Camernitz, “but we proved that we belong.  We proved that we can play at the highest level.  That gives us a ton of confidence heading into next season.”

Although Quebec had home-ice advantage in the Finals, having finished with one more point than Anchorage in the regular season, the Tigres were widely considered the underdogs.  The Igloos were making their third trip to the Finals in the last four seasons, and they’d just finished sweeping the mighty Michigan Gray Wolves in the Western playoff.

“Everyone was sure that we didn’t stand a chance against a talented veteran club like [the Igloos],” said D Ward Jones.  “They thought we were fun and scrappy, but basically a fluke.  We showed them that we weren’t.”

Martin Delorme

The outcome of the season was a vindication for Tigres coach Martin Delorme, who walked away from a strong Michigan squad to become the first coach of his home-province team.  The Wolves went on to win the Vandy without him the following season, while Quebec languished in the basement.  As recently as last season, when Delorme was feuding with his star player and attracting unwelcome attention for his personal foibles, it seemed as though the coach might have made a fatal mistake.

Now, though, Delorme is being hailed as a local hero.  “When I was a boy, I dreamed of starring for the Canadiens, to be the next Guy Lafleur,” said Delorme.  “Too bad I was not that good.  But now I am living my dream in a different way.”

Delorme lauded his club for a valiant effort, and believes this run could be the building block for future greatness.  “This series was the greatest test we have ever faced, and we showed our courage and strength,” said Delorme.  “I do not expect this to be a one-year thing.  We can learn our lessons from this experience and become even stronger.”

2018 SHL Finals – Game 6

QUEBEC TIGRES 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 0

In the wake of today’s Game 6, the Anchorage Igloos‘ locker room was completely silent.  After being thoroughly outplayed by the Quebec Tigres and defeated 3-0, after seeing their 3-0 series lead slip away entirely, after seeing the momentum of these Finals shift away from them, the Igloos stared at the floor and tried to process what had happened.  The team that was expecting to be hoisting its second Vandy by now, and the outcome of this game left them reeling.

“What we showed out there tonight isn’t us,” said C Jake Frost.  “If we can’t put out a better effort than that, we should just go give [the Tigres] the trophy right now.”

“We have no one to blame but ourselves for letting it get this far,” said coach Sam Castor.

From the drop of the puck, Anchorage looked confused and ill at ease.  The orange-clad crowd at Centre Citadelle generated a tremendous roar, and it clearly fueled the hometown Tigres.  Quebec completely dominated the first period, outshooting the Igloos 15-5.  “It felt like we were just stuck in quicksand out there,” said LW Jerry Koons.

Given how thoroughly Quebec controlled play in the period, it’s a bit remarkable that they ended the period with only a one-goal lead.  RW Sindri Pentti, who started the game on a hunch by coach Martin Delorme, put the puck in the next only 13 seconds in.  But Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington made a number of acrobatic saves to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Unfortunately, Worthington couldn’t hold the fort forever.  Less than two minutes into the second period, Quebec D Dmitri Kalashnikov blasted a shot from the blue line that bounced off the crossbar.  The Igloos goalie couldn’t corral the rebound, and RW Flint Robinson stuffed it home for a 2-0 lead.

“Steel is great at parking himself in front of the net and cleaning up the garbage,” said Tigres D Ward Jones.  “That’s the kind of rugged, hard-working game that we play.”

Although Quebec didn’t dominate play to quite the same extent in the second, they did manage to control the pace of the game with their suffocating defense.  Once again, they held Anchorage to a mere five shots in the period.

“Ten shots is a slow period for us typically,” said Frost.  “To get only ten shots in two periods?  That’s unheard of for us.  They just completely bottled us up.”

Continuing their pattern of early-period strikes, Tigres C Phil Miller beat Worthington high on the glove side with two minutes gone in the third to give the home team a three-goal lead and send the home crowd into orbit.  “I thought they maybe would cheer enough for the roof to fall down,” said C Drustan Zarkovich.

The desperate Igloos were finally able to generate some offensive momentum in the third; they ripped off 11 shots in the period.  But Quebec goalie Riki Tiktuunen stood firm in the crease, calmly turning aside every blast; when all was said and done, he had stopped 21 shots to complete his second shutout of the series.  Even when Tigres D Laurie Workman committed a pair of late penalties to give unwitting aid to the visitors, the Igloos were unable to convert.

“We didn’t really find our game until the third, and by then it was too late,” said Koons.

Now, if the Igloos are going to claim the Vandy they’d assumed was theirs, they will need to erase the memory of the Tigres’ three-goal third period in Game 5 to secure a come-from-behind win, and they’ll need to forget the way they were manhandled in this game.  “We need to remember that we’re the better team, and we need to play like it,” said Frost.

For their part, the Tigres say they aren’t going to take a Game 7 victory for granted, either.  “Momentum disappears the minute the puck is dropped,” said Delorme.  “Tomorrow is a one-game series, and we must treat it that way.  What came before is only the prologue to the story.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 6”