Taking It Off: Jones' Hair Will Go, The Miami Uniform Will Be Tougher
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
WORCESTER, Mass. You spend some time around this game, you get to see a lot of great players.
But, the number of players you can also call the true "spiritual leader" of their teams, those guys are few and far between.
Ryan Jones finished his collegiate career with 90 goals and 147 points in 161 games. He leaves Miami with a lot more than that, however.
With his long hair flowing out of the back of his helmet — Jones is growing it long to donate to 13-year-old ovarian cancer patient Korinne Croghan — he almost looks like the RedHawks' shaman, a medicine man.
It's no coincidence that Miami's rise of late, the best stretch in the program's history, has coincided with Jones' presence.
He has willed the team to new heights it has never reached before.
"He's done that for four years," said Miami coach Rico Blasi. "His determination, his passion, his will, it's tremendous. He's been a great leader for us.
"I know he has the respect of everybody in our locker room, and in our program. Not only respect, but love. That's what a true leader is, he puts his team on his back and leads by example, does everything he has to do. That's what he's done for us all four years.
Players come to the postgame press conference in a variety of dress. Sweats, t-shirt and shorts. The 6-2, 215-pound Jones walked in the room and he hadn't taken off a piece of his uniform. The captain wore his white Miami #26 — and it looked like no one had ever been more proud to wear a jersey in his life.
"I'm sitting here in my jersey for a reason," said Jones. "It's kind of scary to think about taking it off for the last time."
BC senior captain Mike Brennan went toe-to-toe with Jones the last couple years in the regionals, and watched him score the game's tying goal midway through the third period.
"He's a tremendous player. You know when he's on the ice," Brennan said. "He's hard-nosed, he's big, he's strong. He looks crazy with that hair, too. I like that. Two shifts in a row we got stuck going one-on-one, and when he's coming down you're aware that he's on you. You've got to play him as hard as you can. He never gives up on the puck. Ever.
"He's a great leader, too, for that team. You want the team to look up at you and be the guy who's going to step up — not necessarily score the big goal, but have the confidence in you, and he embodies that. He's got a presence about him on the ice, and I think the rest of the guys on his team look up to him."
Blasi admits he knew he had something special in the Chatham, Ont., native when he recruited him four years ago.
"We always thought that he could score," Blasi said. "But the first time that we met him, you could tell he had so much passion in what he was going to do. It was just a matter of putting him with the right guys so he could develop over time. The credit goes to him. He's the one who had to do it every day. He's worked really hard in the weight room, in the classroom, he's just done everything you could ask a player to do."
This is a guy who could have left early last year to turn pro. Isn't that what happens nowadays in the college game? You have a strong couple of years, you get a good offer and you shake hands and move on.
With Jones' size, determination and skill, the Minnesota Wild came calling in the offseason. Jones said no.
"I came back to play with a bunch of guys that I love, and that's what I did this year," said Jones, his voice cracking. "I can't even put it into words what it meant for me to come back this year. Even though we lost, I think these guys are champions. We took the program a long way, and I'll be the first alum to call when they go to the Frozen Four, and I hope I'll be watching them on TV someday."
As a coach, and even as a fan, you want and hope to have players come to your program who will live and die for them. The weaker programs are looking to find better talent. The stronger programs are looking to keep landing the better talent they have. But they're all searching for that intangible, the kid who has that special something you can't easily describe but you know it when you see it.
For Jones, leaving early would have meant leaving his team. His team. And he wasn't finished what he came to Miami to do.
"That's why he came back," said Blasi. "His example has transcended throughout our whole team. That's the way we play. If you've watched our team play all year, we play like that. He's left a legacy that we're going to have to continue.
"But, I'm very confident that what he's left was contagious and the guys have really bought into it. They're going to carry on that tradition.
"He's taught so well, and the guys know that's the way we've got to play."
Now that his last college game is behind him, the inevitable questions about his future come. But it's too early for the captain to look ahead.
"I can't even think about taking this jersey off," said Jones. "I guess you have to talk to your advisors and let them do the work. They'll tell me what's best for my career.
"But I don't know if I want to play for another team other than Miami this year. I don't know if it would do the program justice."