Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2014-15 NHL season, USA Hockey Magazine will periodically highlight American-born players through various Q&A segments. In our most recent discussion we talk Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones.
Long before he slipped on a Nashville Predators jersey, Seth Jones was already making a name for himself in many hockey households around the United States. Some knew the Dallas native as the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. Others viewed him as the next great American defenseman with the size and athleticism to stand out in the NHL. In only his second year in the NHL, Jones has worked his way to become an integral part of the best team in the NHL heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Besides hockey, what other sports did you play in when you were in grade school/middle school? Why and when did you ultimately decide that hockey was your sport of choice?
I played lacrosse for about a year when I was about 10 years old, but that’s it. Hockey was really the only sport I played growing up. I don’t know why I decided to. I lived in Colorado when I was younger and went to a lot of Avalanche games. Then, I moved to Dallas and went to a few Stars games as well. It just kind of stuck with me.
What is your most vivid memory of playing hockey as a youngster? Maybe a memorable goal or a tournament you won?
First year playing Peewee AA we won the national championship. I was playing up with the 1992 birth year, so kids who were two years older than me. Two years after, I went to national championships again in AAA hockey, and we lost in the finals. Those are my youth hockey memories that I remember most.
You played for the U.S. National Team Development Program for two seasons (2010-12). How do you think your game developed in those two years before you headed to play Junior hockey out West? As a follow-up, what was it like billeting with a family in Ann Arbor, Mich., and living away from home for those few years?
The U.S. program was great because I was able to play against older kids. You’re 15, 16, going in, and you’re playing against 18, 19, 20 year olds. It’s good both physically and mentally. Portland in the WHL — Juniors was the same thing there. The league is probably a little better in certain areas, but it was more the same there. The families I billeted with in Michigan and Portland were both really good to me.
Why did you eventually decide to head the Major Junior route and play for the Portland Winterhawks versus college?
It was a personal decision. It’s not the right decision for everyone. College is the right decision for a lot of people and Major Junior is the right decision for others. It was a personal decision that I thought would be the best for my career. It’s a decision I didn’t make on my own. My family a big part in that decision, along with my advisor/agent. It wasn’t an overnight decision; it took me about nine months to make it.
Was there an NHL player or two that you looked up to when you were a young kid? Was there anyone in particular that you tried to model your game after?
Every defenseman now says Nickolas Lidstrom. He’s kid of the perfect defenseman that everyone tried to play like. I liked watching the whole league. I loved the watching the Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk, and obviously Lidstrom was on the team as well. I liked the way they played growing up.
How much have small area games been incorporated into your practices at both the Junior and professional level? What types of skills have you taken away from those situations?
Coaches like to pay 3-on-3 and cross-ice hockey. Sometime we’ll play 3-on-2 or 2-on-2 down low in the zone. It helps bring some skill up and chemistry up between the guys. There’s a little bit of competitiveness as well. Every team at every level that I’ve played on has put in some small area games in at the end of most practices because coaches want to see guys compete.
What is it like playing in a non-traditional hockey market such as Nashville?
It’s been great. The fan base is really great here. The turnout of the game has been fantastic, and the fans are loud. You see Predators jerseys on the street. It starts with youth hockey. I’m doing what I can, and I know a lot of the guys in the room are doing a lot to promote the game and get more kids to play.
You currently live at home with your mom, an agreement you and your family had long before you were drafted. How has the adjustment been from Juniors to the NHL, knowing you have the comfort and stability of the home life in Tennessee?
It’s been a big help. I lived with her last year, and I’m living with her this year as well. Juniors to the NHL is a big jump; it’s a different lifestyle. Last year was a learning experience for me. This year, I feel more confident on the ice.
What advice can you give a young 10-year-old kid playing youth hockey who aspires to play Junior, college or even professional hockey?
Work hard. You’re probably going to hear that from a lot of people. Coaches want to see your work ethic; it’s not always about skill or who can score the most goals on the team. It’s just how hard you work, how hard you compete and how bad you want to win.