Jones Powering Way to Top
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. Merrimack has made a habit out of surprising people this season. The Warriors' 6-6-1 record, although not flashy, is a vast improvement over their 3-27-4 season last year.
Early in the season, the Warriors have already swept a weekend series with Maine, swept a two-game road series from Bemidji State, and have received more votes in the national polls than ever before. But, the biggest surprise is the Warriors' biggest player — 6-foot-4 forward Matt Jones.
Jones, who had just four goals as a freshman last season, leads all of Hockey East with nine tallies through 13 games this year.
Jones came on in the second half of last season, and was consistently one of the best players on the ice, for both teams, from January on. But, due to the Warriors' struggling offense, his play didn't show up on the scoresheet, until now.
Jones' breakout game was last December, when he netted the Warriors' only two goals in a 2-1 win over Massachusetts.
"I'm just trying to get pucks to the net," Jones said. "The first half of last year I wasn't doing too much, but I hung in there and now I've got it going."
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy has certainly noticed a difference. The emergence of Jones can be traced back to a conversation he had with his coach almost a year ago.
"I wasn't even sure if he liked hockey," Dennehy said after the win against UMass last season. "I told him, 'When you are the biggest kid in the sandbox, and you want a toy, you go and take it.'"
That mindset has been the primary reason for Jones' sudden rise to one of the most feared scorers in Hockey East. Almost all nine of his goals have come from using his large frame to drive to the net, and overpower smaller defensemen.
Jones remembers the conversation with Dennehy.
"I remember the sandbox conversation," Jones laughed. "He talked to me right around Christmas time last year, and it did open my eyes. He basically said that the biggest kid in the sandbox doesn't ask for a toy, he just takes it. That's what I've been doing. If I want to go to the net with the puck, I can use my size to get there.
"Looking back, before the second half of last season, I never really used my size. I don't really think of myself as being bigger until I see myself in a picture or in the mirror with someone else, and I notice that I am taller."
Another reason has been the opportunity for Dennehy to match Jones with center Rob Ricci, who sat out last season with a team suspension after leading the Warriors in scoring as a freshman in 2005-06.
"Matt worked really hard as a freshman, and since we have put him with Ricci, he's really taken off," Dennehy said.
"My first two years, we didn't have any first line, so to have a first line is very refreshing."
Jones likes the consistency.
"We weren't really able to develop chemistry last season," Jones said. "Obviously we struggled to score goals, and we weren't winning, so Coach was changing things up a lot trying to find that chemistry. I've been playing with Ricci now for a while, and Chris Barton too, and we've started to develop that chemistry. We know where we are on the ice. It definitely helps, without a doubt."