Former Nitehawk makes NHL debut

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Former Beaver Valley Nitehawks forward Connor Jones made his NHL debut on Sunday with the New York Islanders, in what was an impressive, if not surreal experience.

“It was unbelievable,” Jones told Newsday following the game. “In warm-ups, you’re out there, seeing all the fans, everybody, just that amount of people watching you — it’s the stuff you only see on TV. I enjoyed it for a little bit, then it was time to get to work.”

Jones signed a two-way (NHL-AHL) deal through the remainder of the season on Feb. 22 and after injury to Islander forwards John Tavares, the Bridgeport Sound Tiger centerman was given the call up on Friday.

Jones played on 18 shifts and 11 minutes and 13 seconds in a 4-2 Islanders victory over the Buffalo Sabres, and the 26-year-old Montrose native came very close to registering his first NHL point. Jones appeared to touch the puck to Nick Leddy who then head-manned it to Cal Clutterbuck for the opening goal of the game, but Jones was not awarded an assist on the play. Then the former Quinnipiac University Bobcat almost notched his first NHL goal, but missed the empty net twice in the final minute.

Still Islanders coach Doug Weight said bringing Jones up to the Islanders wasn’t for his prowess around the net, but for his hard-work, his penalty kill and an effective fourth-line ethos.

“He had some energy, just what we thought he’d bring,” Weight said. “He was probably tired, he played a ton for Bridgeport two nights ago, but he looked ready and he did some good things.”

Jones played 56 games with the Sound Tigers this season, recording 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) and a plus-8 rating.

Connor’s parents Terry and Loretta Jones and twin-brother Kellen, who also plays for the Sound Tigers, were in attendance on Sunday.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Terry. “I don’t know if I have words that describe it . . . to see your son have his dream come true is remarkable and just to go through the whole experience and be honest about it, the fact that he played good, it’s great for him and it’s great for Kel, and hopefully he’s opening some doors for himself. But regardless, it’s something no one can take away from him.”

Jones netted 26 goals and 72 points in his 2006-07 season with the Nitehawks before moving on to the BCHL with the Vernon Vipers where he and Kellen led the Snakes to two RBC Cup championships in 2009-10. The twins went on to play for the Quinnipiac University Bobcats in Hamden Connecticut where they led the Bobcats to the Frozen Four twice, only to lose in the championship match. 

“You dream about it your whole life and you’re not sure if you’ll get it,” Connor said on the Islanders Twitter site. “The fact that it was today was monumentally special.”

Jones played his second game with the Islanders in Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over the Nashville Predators, playing 13 shifts and 10:05 in ice time. The Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot with three games to play in the regular season, and Connor and the Isles will face off again on Thursday against Carolina.