From foes to linemates: Jones, Kawaguchi finally team up
GRAND FORKS – Jordan Kawaguchi and Nick Jones of the University of North Dakota looked at each other.
They shook their heads.
And Kawaguchi said the first thing that came to his mind when he found out that he was going to start his college career as linemates with Jones.
“Here we go.”
Finally, they were on the same side.
Kawaguchi and Jones went head-to-head — with their lines often matching up against each other — nine times in 24 days this spring in high-stakes games. Seven of the games came in the British Columbia Hockey League finals. Two additional games came the following week in the Western Canada Cup with a berth in the national RBC Cup on the line.
They saw plenty of each other in those games.
Kawaguchi was the high scorer for the Chilliwack Chiefs, blowing through the BCHL record books with a prolific playoff run.
Jones was the best shutdown centerman for the Penticton Vees, who earned the assignment of trying to slow down Kawaguchi.
“I found myself looking at him every shift, especially when we were away,” Kawaguchi said. “It was a lot of games. We got to know each other pretty well. Those were pretty tough battles, but I’m glad I’m on the same team now.”
Kawaguchi lined up on Jones’ left wing during UND’s 6-2 exhibition win over the University of Manitoba on Saturday. Kawaguchi scored a goal and Jones tallied an assist.
There’s a good chance they’ll be together again Friday night, Oct. 6, as the Fighting Hawks open the regular season at Alaska Anchorage (10:07 p.m., Sullivan Arena).
For those in the BCHL, there’s a bit of an amusement seeing Kawaguchi and Jones as linemates after they finished 1-2 in BCHL playoff scoring last season and matching up against each other in the finals.
Penticton coach Fred Harbinson, a former assistant at St. Cloud State, said: “I’m sure it was funny for them last year, knowing they were going to be teammates sooner than later. But they both wanted to win that championship bad.”
So did Harbinson.
That’s why he assigned Jones to match Kawaguchi’s line as much as possible. That was easier to do when Penticton was the home team and had last line change.
“Kawaguchi put together a playoff run that I hadn’t seen in many years in this league,” Harbinson said. “He got real hot in the playoffs. It was kind of crazy the point totals he was putting up.
“At the same time, Jonesy did a hell of a job against him. I’ve been here 11 years and there aren’t many that compete as hard as Nick Jones. He was our captain for a reason. In big games and big moments, Nick was always there for us. His competitive fire is second to none. When the big moments happened, he was more than confident in his ability that he would get it done, and that would trickle through the room. Everyone in the room got this feeling that we could do it.”
During the best-of-seven series in the BCHL finals, Kawaguchi was in the middle of all the action for Chilliwack.
He either scored or assisted on 15 of Chilliwack’s 17 goals in the series, including 13 in a row. He ended the playoffs with 43 points in 23 games. In the previous decade, nobody in the BCHL had posted more than 31 points in the playoffs.
“We knew he was going to be difficult to shut down,” Jones said. “He came in and he was difficult to handle. He was pretty much their only source of offense against us.”
Jones, meanwhile, had a big playoff run himself.
In addition to playing a shutdown role, the Ohio State transfer racked up 27 points — the third-highest playoff point total in the BCHL in the last decade, only behind Kawaguchi and Mat Bodie, who led Union to an NCAA national title.
“Honestly, it was really hard playing against him,” Kawaguchi said. “He’s really good defensively. He’s a really good player on both sides of the puck. It’s pretty hard to score on him, especially five-on-five.”
Jones and Penticton ended up winning both battles.
The Vees beat Chilliwack 1-0 in overtime in Game 7 of the BCHL finals. Jones helped create the game-winning goal by forcing a turnover while forechecking.
They split games in the Western Canada Cup, but Penticton won the second and decisive one 3-2. Jones had two goals and one assist in that game.
“Nick is a great kid and I really enjoyed having him here,” Harbinson said. “I have so much respect for him as a person and a player. He was always an intense individual. I loved everything about it. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jordan, too. We’re not an easy to team score on, and he found a way to produce against us last year and put a heck of a run together. He carried that Chiefs team on his back.
“I’m excited to see how those guys play together.”
Harbinson said he’ll be following UND’s games.
“We’ve also got Gabe Bast, Dixon Bowen and Tucker Poolman there,” he said. “We’ve had guys there before them, too. There’s a good relationship between the teams. One big thing is that whenever our players go to North Dakota, they are treated to a culture that we hope to instill here first.”