Regardless of what league it is, you never really get ample opportunities to speak with a commissioner.
Fortunately, I caught USHL commissioner Skip Prince at the right time. He was driving back from Dallas where he was speaking to area youth about the option which exists in the USHL/college model.
We talked about Texas, a place dear to both of us because each of us lived there. We spoke on a subject for a story that’s coming out a little bit later. We then talked about Seth Jones.
If you’ve read or not read this blog or any hockey blog as of late, Seth Jones is a 6-3, 205-pound defenseman who could screw around and be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Or as Prince put it, “I’ve had people involved in hockey tell me he could be one of the 25 greatest players over the last 50 years by the time he’s done.”
The conversation continued about Jones and Prince brought up how he hopes it all doesn’t become too much for Jones. By too much, he means the media exposure, the talk about being No. 1 overall and being the face of a movement.
Movement, in this case, being the black face of a sport which has been predominantly white.
Or as I put it to Prince, “You mean trying to be the Tiger Woods of hockey?”
Seth Jones hasn’t been drafted. He hasn’t played in the NHL. He hasn’t even played in the WHL yet these are the questions so many have slightly discussed but it seems like no one ever outright wants to say it.
Can Seth Jones bring about an entire change? Can this kid be the one who goes from being a “black” hockey player to just a hockey player?
Even while writing this, I realize it is a hell of a thing to ask of anyone let alone someone who is still a teenager. But let’s face it. That’s the situation he and the rest of us are all looking at.
Let’s assume, even for a minute, Seth Jones is everything we all think he is going to be and more.
He’s going to be that player fans – regardless of race -are going to want to see. He’s going to be the player kids are going to annoy their parents about and eventually bug them into submission into playing hockey.
Call me or this column far-fetched, but that’s the exact impact Woods had on golf when he broke into the PGA what’s been 16 years ago. Golf, for anyone who played it before Woods, was seen as a game for the rich, the stuffy, the privileged and rarely did you see anyone outside the country club crowd playing the game.
Films such as “Caddyshack” and “Happy Gilmore” are proof of how restricted the sport was with its fan base.
Yet when Woods broke in, he attracted everyone to the point where anyone who wanted to play golf could play golf and when it came to youth, his First Tee program gave them options.
To even suggest Jones could have that impact is taking a big gamble, but what if we’re right?
Say what you want but, for now, it appears Seth Jones has all the tools needed to pull this off and bridge the gap. When he was deciding between the WHL and the NCAA, he made it clear to both sides what his intentions were. That alone made many people achieve a respect for him because he was honest with what he was doing and didn’t commit only to decommit, leaving a school in peril.
Covering this league, you hear things about players and no one has ever said a negative thing about him. The only negative I’ve heard even remotely close is, “You wish there were more like him.”
Maybe if there were more like him we’d already be at a point where this discussion wouldn’t need to happen. Where we wouldn’t see hockey try to prove time in and time out it has evolved with diversity only to have incidents such as the one with Joel Ward happen.
But because there is one Seth Jones, it could make what we see even that more impressive.