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Brampton - Long road trips were a fact of life for the first three seasons of Sean Jones’s Ontario Hockey League career.
An overage left winger with the Brampton Battalion, Jones began his OHL journey with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who made him a second-round choice in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection.
He played 71 games over two seasons in Sault Ste. Marie, which ranks as the OHL’s northernmost and westernmost centre, before being traded to the Erie Otters in November, 2007. The Battalion acquired him from Erie on Aug. 24, 2009.
“With the Greyhounds, there would be some weeks we’d be out of town from Wednesday morning until three or four o’clock the following Monday morning,” Jones said Wednesday as the Battalion prepared for its longest road trip of the season, three games in as many days starting against the Saginaw Spirit at 7:11 p.m. Thursday. The Troops visit Sault Ste. Marie at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the Sudbury Wolves at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We seemed to spend as much time on the bus as we did at home. Our shortest bus ride was three and a half hours. In Erie we had a lot of overnight trips, and that kind of travel was a part of the game I really loved. We do a lot of day trips here, but I’m used to the kind of trip we have ahead.”
Jones said that, as a 16-year-old rookie with the Greyhounds, the novelty of extended trips wore off quickly.
“For the first little while it felt like you were at a minor hockey tournament with no parents, but we learned we were on the road for business. There was a time and place for fun. We need to take this trip very seriously. It’s not minor hockey. There are no ministick games in the halls.”
The Newmarket, Ont., resident said the key to success on a lengthy sojourn can be more mental than physical.
“Some of the new guys may not be used to these kinds of trips, but to me it’s mind over matter. You get a good warmup in before the game, get your legs going and, when the game starts, you have to mentally get your mind off the fact you’ve been on a bus for a while.
“We need to get the home crowd out of the games right away. Once we do that, the home team can lose a lot of confidence and the arena gets quieter. That makes it a lot easier for us, rather than being in a place that goes crazy for every hit, fight or goal by the home team.”
The Troops have faced each of their opponents on the trip once this season. They lost 4-2 at home to Saginaw on Sunday, defeated the visiting Greyhounds 5-1 on Oct. 14 and won by the same score at Sudbury the following night.
The Battalion owned a 43-23 edge in shots over the Spirit, numbers that Jones noted remained on the Powerade Centre shot clocks as the team practised.
“Maybe that’s the hockey gods telling us we need to capitalize on our chances. Saginaw was another team we outshot and outworked that beat us. We need to remember that we need to do those things and come out with a positive result.”
Right winger Philip Lane is set to return to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, and centre Craig Moore, who has missed two games with a concussion, was expected to make the trip. Centre Jonathan Johansson is sidelined with mononucleosis.
“Getting Lane back will really help us,” said Jones. “He’s a key part of this team. We can’t control the injuries or who’s out of the lineup. We can only look at who’s available to play and what we’re able to contribute as individuals.”
The games at Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury can be seen live in Brampton on Rogers Cable 10 and in Bolton, Caledon and Orangeville on Rogers Cable 63.