By Nick Patterson Herald Columnist
Comcast Arena will be abuzz tonight.
This is the moment Everett Silvertips fans have eagerly awaited. For more than three years, they’ve waited patiently for their opportunity to see superstar defenseman Seth Jones take the ice in Everett.
Unfortunately, Tips fans won’t be seeing Jones in the context they wished.
Jones makes his first visit to Everett as a member of the Portland Winterhawks tonight, and it’s certain he’ll receive an icy reception from a home crowd he jilted.
The saga by now is well known. Everett, with two first-round picks in the 2009 bantam draft, took a chance on Jones. Jones was considered perhaps the top talent available in the draft, and as the son of former NBA basketball player Popeye Jones he came complete with a compelling backstory. However, Jones slid to 11th overall because of questions about whether he would choose to play in the WHL or the NCAA.
For three years, the Tips courted Jones and his family. Then team general manager Doug Soetaert always maintained his confidence that Jones would end up in Everett, even after Jones decided to play his 16- and 17-year-old seasons for the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Jones was the game changer. He was considered the type of talent capable of single-handedly turning around Everett’s flagging fortunes, which have seen the Tips fail to advance past the first round of the playoffs since 2007. He was billed as the complete package of size, skill and hockey sense. Images of a defensive pairing including Jones and Ryan Murray caused salivary glands in Everett to gush like waterfalls.
But Soetaert was dismissed in February. Then in April, Jones’ representatives announced he wouldn’t sign with the Silvertips. Everett was compelled to trade him to Portland for a package of four prospects, and Jones wasted no time signing with the Winterhawks.
By all accounts, Jones has been every bit as good as advertised. Going into Friday night’s game against Seattle, the 18-year-old had six goals — including a beauty solo effort during Portland’s 5-2 victory over Everett on Halloween — and 11 assists in 24 games, as well as a plus-17 rating. He’s solidified his position as one of the top two prospects for the 2013 NHL draft, and he helped Portland compile the league’s best record at 20-4-1-0.
Everett fans are left wondering what might have been.
We still haven’t received an explanation from Jones as to why he wouldn’t sign with Everett, but was willing to sign with Portland. Jones was not made available for an interview this week as the Winterhawks closed ranks in response to the crippling sanctions handed down by the league Wednesday for player benefit violations.
As if tonight’s game wasn’t charged enough by Jones’ first visit to Everett, it’s also Portland’s first road game since the sanctions were imposed. Think the Winterhawks may hear a few choice words from the fans?
But it’s certain Jones will be the primary target of those barbs. When Portland played Everett during the Everett Silvertips Preseason Tournament, Jones heard a smattering of boos every time he touched the puck. There were maybe 1,000 fans in the stands that night, and the game meant nothing. It will be an exponentially larger crowd tonight, and a completely different atmosphere.
After all, it’s hard to get over a broken heart.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.