Jones, Toews adjusting to life after Quinnipiac hockey

Kriby Paulson and Dan Bahl


Photo: Rebecca Castagna
Photo: Rebecca Castagna

With the Quinnipiac hockey team having so much success over the past five seasons, an increased amount of alumni have signed professional contracts after their time in Hamden. One of the most popular venues for ex-Bobcats is Bridgeport, home of the Sound Tigers, the American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders.

Kellen Jones, Travis St. Denis and Devon Toews all currently call Bridgeport home. St. Denis and Toews signed with the team after last season’s loss to North Dakota, with Toews foregoing his final year of college in order to do so. Jones signed his first pro deal with the Oklahoma City Barons, affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, in 2014 after his senior year. He’s currently playing in his first season with the Sound Tigers.

Photo: Rebecca Castagna
Photo: Rebecca Castagna

Jones, a forward and native of Montrose, British Columbia, tallied 173 points over parts of four seasons with the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League before coming to Quinnipiac. Jones went on to put up 127 points in four seasons with the Bobcats, forming a powerful line with his brother, Connor, and fellow professional Matthew Peca. He’s been on a professional deal since 2014, and has seen firsthand how different the college and pro game can be.

“The players are better. They’re stronger. You have a different role than you do in college,” Jones said.

Toews, a defenseman and native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, put up 76 points over two seasons with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL before coming to Hamden. He went on to rack up 67 points over three seasons with the Bobcats and became a staple on the blue line during Quinnipiac’s run to the National Championship game in the 2015-16 season. Despite only being in his first season as a professional, Toews has already seen a difference of his own.

Photo: Thomas Cunningham
Photo: Thomas Cunningham

“I think it’s just the IQ of the players is a lot higher,” Toews said. “The players are smarter so you need to watch your mistakes a little bit more than in college.”

Toews, Jones and St. Denis were all recruited by Rand Pecknold, and played for him their entire college careers. They were able to benefit from his tutelage, along with the rest of the coaching staff, as the lessons they were taught at Quinnipiac helped prepare them for life as a professional.

“I think that he, and the program, developed me into a really complete player,” Jones said. “From being strong defensively, to penalty kill and blocking shots, and everything.”

The players also talked about Pecknold’s dedication to the program and his players. He is known as one of the strongest recruiters and tactical coaches in the ECAC, and his former players all recognize how much he puts into the team in order to make is successful.

“He has so much passion for the Quinnipiac game,” Toews said. “I think that’s something that the players really thrive off of and bring into the game as well.”

A fourth ex-Bobcat, Connor Jones, spent the first 56 games of the season with the Sound Tigers. On April 1, Jones was called up by the New York Islanders, and made his NHL debut the night after. Kellen, Connor’s twin, was able to be in attendance for Connor’s first game. He, along with his parents, watched in awe as his brother took the ice for the first time in the NHL.

“To see my parents’ reaction was amazing,” Jones said. “That’s something that we’ve worked for our whole life.”

Jones would end up playing four of the final five games of the regular season for the Islanders, recording two shots on goal and two penalty minutes. In the Islanders’ regular season finale against the Ottawa Senators, Jones led all forwards in ice-time at 16:54. For his brother, it was equally as gratifying being a part of Connor’s experience.

“To see that dream come true for him was incredibly special, and I’m extremely happy for him,” Jones said.

The Sound Tigers sit at 44-26-3-1, fifth in the Atlantic Division and the team plays their final two games of the regular season next weekend. They travel to Springfield, Massachusetts to play the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday, after which they travel to Pennsylvania to battle the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. Currently one point out of the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, the Sound Tigers know how important the final two games of the season are. Having been on big stages during their college careers, the Bobcats’ alumni look to draw from their experience in order to adjust to the added pressure next weekend.

“The American Hockey League is a bigger stage than college in the sense that it’s professional now,” Toews said. “So I think it’s just getting used to that kind of intensity and that kind of crowd and hype towards every game.”