Dynamic Vipers’ run closing for Joneses

They have swagger, but they aren’t arrogant. They have an unrivalled passion for hockey, but they could have also earned baseball scholarships.

Twins Kellen (left) and Connor Jones have lifted the Vernon Vipers to a second straight Royal Bank Cup tournament.

Twins Kellen (left) and Connor Jones have lifted the Vernon Vipers to a second straight Royal Bank Cup tournament.

They have swagger, but they aren’t arrogant. They have an unrivalled passion for hockey, but they could have also earned baseball scholarships.

Their relentless determination to win spreads like an infection in the dressing room. It has also spread like a bad omen for opposing defencemen over the last four years in the B.C. Hockey League.

Perhaps the only knock against Vernon Viper twins Connor and Kellen Jones would be their size (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), and they pretty much rendered that statistic meaningless the moment they joined the league as a pair of wide-eyed call-ups in the 2006-07 playoffs.

The Kootenay kids, playing on an all-rookie line with David Robinson, joined the team in the second round and had a fairly quiet series against the Trail Smokes Eaters, recording just a single point between them. It was in the Interior Conference final where their Viper legacy truly began.

“It’s also legend in Penticton,” quipped Vipers’ owner Duncan Wray.

Going up against a physical Vees squad, Connor, Kellen and Robinson were like a trio of waterbugs, darting all over the ice, using their speed to take over the series, combining for eight goals and a dozen assists in a five-game rout of the Vees.

“They just didn’t know how to react to them. It just gave us another dimension as a team that they had no way of combatting,” said Wray. “They tried to run them, (Gary) Silvester and (Mike) Towns, and they did everything they possibly could to get them out of the game. But you know them and the size of the heart they have that there was no way they were going to be denied.”

Connor laughs, recalling some of the abuse they took in the corners from the Penticton veterans.

“I was a lot smaller then, so when I’d get hit it didn’t really hurt, I’d just fly up in the air and squirm by. Those guys were definitely a nice welcome to the league. Dave had his first fight against Sylvester, who was probably twice the size of him. It was fun.”

Added Kellen: “We were just two little kids that didn’t know what to expect and we didn’t know the importance of it. We just tried to go out there and work as hard as we can, and it’s the exact same thing we do now.”

Connor admits to feeling hesitant when he and Kellen got the invite to join the Vipers that post-season. As members of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, they were still feeling the sting of a semifinals exit to the Nelson Leafs in the KIJHL playoffs, and not one to take losing lightly, Connor had second thoughts.

“I was like ‘Gosh, I don’t want to lose twice in one year,’” he recalled. “(Looking back), it was a great move going up there and playing, and it was a great start to a great four years in Vernon.”

Wray says his initial introduction to the twins was a brief one. He and then Viper GM Troy Mick went up to watch Beaver Valley play the host Sicamous Eagles in the 2006-07 regular season.

“Connor was thrown out of the game early in the first period for checking from behind and I think Kellen actually got thrown out a little later in the game, so we didn’t get to see much of them,” said Wray. “But you could just tell from the few short shifts I did see from them that these kids are pretty special.”

Over the next three seasons with Vernon, the Joneses combined for 371 points and 205 penalty minutes in 317 games, firmly establishing themselves as fan favourites at Wesbild Centre. For the most part, Connor has been the triggerman with 80 goals, while Kellen played the setup guy with 134 assists.

Those may not be considered elite numbers by some, but their ability to influence a game, and often take one over, is undeniable.

“They’re so dynamic as players and they do so much with the puck that when they have the puck, the other team can’t do anything,” said Wray. “In spite of the fact that they maybe haven’t put up these huge 90-point seasons, their ability to control the game is second-to-none and that’s what makes them so valuable.”

Even on nights when they might not put up a point, the Jones boys always have their legs moving. Kellen says it is something that has been instilled in them by their father Terry since they started playing.

“Growing up, my dad always told me ‘You might not have your hands one night, you might not be skating well, but you can always go out there and work your hardest,’” said Kellen. “We take that into consideration every night. You’ve got to go out there and work for your opportunities and that’s what I try to do.”

The twins have played with an assortment of talented linemates over the last four seasons. From Robinson to Hunter Bishop to Sahir Gill to Cory Kane, and back to Robinson and Gill in the late stages of this season. No matter who they play with, it never seems to take the third player long to pick up on their built-in chemistry.

“They feed off each other, and playing with them I feel like I’ve gotten to know them fairly well,” said Gill, an 18-year-old Terrace native. “When you get three people working together like that… their work ethic is contagious.

“You see your top players working that hard, and everyone tries to match that, and especially with our team everyone’s trying to one-up and follow that up by getting more momentum going.”

Bishop, who was recently signed by the Montreal Canadiens, is easily the most prolific scorer the twins ever played with. But Connor says the best all-round player and team leader was former two-year captain Chris Crowell.

Connor grins as he recalls one of his first road trips with the Vipers.

“All the rookies sat at the front of the bus, and I got on the bus and there’s no seats anywhere and Crow’s a big veteran guy and he goes ‘Jonesy, get back here!’ I’m like ‘What? I don’t want to go sit with you 20-year-olds. I’m scared.’

“I sat beside him the whole trip to Nanaimo, and me and him are sitting there, legs touching, we fell asleep and put our heads on each other.

“That was probably one of the funniest moments because he’s this big grizzly guy and I’m this little tiny guy. It was a great start to a great friendship. I roomed with him for pretty much every road trip we went on and he’s one of my best friends.”

Fast forward to the 2010 Royal Bank Cup in Dauphin, Man., and the Vipers are looking to be the first team to repeat as champions in nearly two decades.

The twins played a vital role in capturing last year’s crown.

Connor earned Top Forward honours at the tournament in Victoria. He was second overall in tournament scoring at this year’s World Junior A Challenge in Summerside, P.E.I., collecting four goals for 10 points in five games.

This time though, Connor has yet to play a game at the RBC as he has been nursing a lower-body injury sustained in the Doyle Cup Championship series with the Spruce Grove Saints.

“He’s beside himself that he can’t play,” said Wray. “He was practically in tears when he was told he wouldn’t be dressing for the first game.”

Connor was expected to suit up for the remaining games this weekend. The gold-medal game goes today (noon PT) at Credit Union Place.

At Friday night’s banquet in Dauphin, Kellen won the Tubby Schmalz Award for Most Sportsmanlike player in the Royal Bank Cup.

The twins’ linemate at the World Junior A Challenge – Cody Kunyk of the Sherwood Park Crusaders – won the CJAHL player of the year.

After such a long, successful stint with the Vipers, the twins say it will be difficult to move on after this season. They still have a year of BCHL eligibility left, but there isn’t really anything left for them to accomplish in this league.

They both have NCAA scholarships with the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac Bobcats. Viper grad Scott Zurevinski, a third-year forward, will be waiting for them.

“Playing for Ferns (Viper head coach Mark Ferner) has been great,” said Kellen. “He and Duncan treat us really well, and I can’t say enough about Vernon. I pretty much call it my home now.”

Added Connor: “It’s been a fairytale pretty much. Winning last year and being at RBC this year, every year we’ve been the team to beat.”

The twins are thankful to their billet families – Brian and Brenda De Boice, and Miles and Karen Latwat – for welcoming them in their homes.