KEARNEY — Tri-City boasts the USHL’s top defense, allowing a league-best two goals per game.
The Storm’s success defensively is a major reason why they sit atop the Western Conference standings with a 14-4-1-0 record. Besides goaltender Isaiah Saville’s stellar play in net, Zac Jones has been instrumental in the defensive zone with slowing down opposing offensive attacks.
Jones has been an impressive addition to this year’s team, after failing to make the USHL the previous two years.
Jones competed in the National Development Camp in Buffalo, New York, for two years, but USHL teams passed on him in the league’s draft in 2016 and 2017.
It didn’t discourage Jones, however. He continued to work on his craft and the Storm called his name with the third overall pick in May’s USHL Phase II draft.
Jones, a 5-foot-9, 176-pound 18-year-old, has been the Storm’s top defenseman this season. He’s recorded two goals and 11 assists for a team-high 13 points in 19 games. The Storm are also a plus-7 when Jones is on the ice.
“The speed was the biggest adjustment coming into this league,” he said. “It’s a lot faster than I expected it to be. There’s a lot of hard hitting, too. It’s a lot more different than U18 hockey, that’s for sure.
“I think just playing with confidence has been a really big key for me.”
Jones spent the last three years at South Kent School, which is also known as Selects Academy, in Connecticut. Last year, Jones recorded 10 goals, 44 assists and 54 points in 61 games with the program’s 18-and-under team.
Jones’ work ethic and talent have stood out to coach Anthony Noreen.
“Whenever you take a guy that high, you have high expectations and hopes,” Noreen said. “He played for one of my best friends in hockey the last couple of seasons. I heard nothing but good things, and we saw nothing but good things when our scouts went out to scout him.
“I think his best hockey is in front of him. I think he has as the potential to be as special of a player as I’ve had at this level.”
Jones is eligible for the 2019 NHL draft. He’s a projected fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round pick, according to NHL Central Scouting’s November rankings.
He is also one of seven defensemen who will suit up for the U.S. Junior Select Team in the World Junior A Challenge Dec. 9-16 in Bonnyville, Alberta.
Tri-City defenseman Ronnie Attard and goaltender Isaiah Saville will join Jones on the Team USA roster. Noreen is the team’s head coach after serving twice as an assistant.
“I’m super excited because to represent your country is a huge honor,” Jones said. “To even be a part of that group and to be around Ronnie and Isaiah is awesome.”
Oliver Wahlstrom watch
The Storm added Boston College forward Oliver Wahlstrom to their roster on Thursday.
The Hockey News reported Wahlstrom, 18, was looking to leave Boston College after a sluggish start to the season. He has three goals in 10 games as a freshman at Boston College.
The respected hockey publication rescinded the report after Boston College hockey posted on Twitter on Friday, “There is no substance to reports that Oliver Wahlstrom is leaving Boston College. He is playing today against Bentley.”
Wahlstrom notched 22 goals and 23 assists in 26 USHL games with the U.S. Under-18 team in 2017-18. The New York Islanders drafted the 6-1, 207-pound winger with the 11th overall pick in June’s NHL draft.
It’s not uncommon for disgruntled players to leave a university for a junior hockey league and by adding him to their roster, the Storm hold his USHL rights.
“We will see,” Noreen said. “If you look around the league at this point, there’s a lot of that happening. He’s actively playing on another team so although it’s not against the rules, I will not be calling him or his camp or trying to sell him on our program or anything like that.
“If he is to leave Boston College, then that’s something we will explore.”