Throughout the corridors of Great Park Ice and Honda Center, there is a boisterous, urgent energy surrounding the Ducks with mere weeks between the club and its season opening action, Oct. 12 against Seattle.
Sure, every team would say the same with building anticipation for games that actually matter, but in Anaheim it’s easy to feel a louder, more passionate buzz than seasons past.
Maybe chief among those reasons is the return of forward Max Jones, who wears his excitement and joy on his sleeve every day and is nearing a complete return to the sport he has grown to appreciate more than ever before.
Jones’ 2021-22 campaign came to a crashing halt just as it was getting started last October when the bruising forward tore his pectoral muscle in a net front battle in Calgary. Jones immediately hurried off the ice, hoping for the best but deep down knowing something was seriously wrong.
“I felt a pop, a big pop, so I knew something wasn’t right,” Jones remembered. “I went in for an MRI in the morning, got it and was getting in the Uber with our trainer when I got the call from our doctor, who broke the news. I knew right there I was pretty much done for the season.
“It was devastating.”
The days that followed were some of the toughest of Jones’ adult life, full of a wide range of emotions. There was the disappointment of missing his age-23 season, the sadness of being separated from his teammates and even the anger of knowing a freak accident had halted his momentum after a strong training camp performance.
“It’s no secret that he’s beloved by all the guys,” Troy Terry, one of Jones’ closest friends, said. “He’s been here as long as I have. He’s been here through the tough years and through the building blocks. Our team took a step last year and it was hard for us and him to not have him with us taking that step. But I’ve watched every minute of how hard he’s worked since.”
Jones leaned on his teammates and family through those dark days, particularly recalling the evening following his injury, when he walked into the locker room in Edmonton and was warmly greeted by his teammates who were just minutes from taking the ice, a gesture that has and will continue to stick with him.
That support Jones expected though, having lived his whole life in the atmosphere of brotherhood a hockey locker room provides. What he wasn’t ready for was the massive outpouring of support he received from Ducks fans on social media when the team officially announced his injury.
“I actually started to cry a little bit just because of how truly loved I felt,” Jones admitted. “Ducks fans would see me out in public and ask how I was doing. Even [last Saturday], I met a fan that had the same pectoral injury and we have the exact same scar. To hear stuff like that is special. That’s a Ducks fan right there telling me his story.”
That love pushed him to tackle his recovery process head-on, a reminder of what he was working towards and that he was far from alone in the difficult process. It also helped him rediscover a love for the game that had become part of who he is as a person.
“That made me motivated each and every day to go to the rink and really grind it out,” Jones said. “I knew there were people there…Everyone has gone through their own battles. We just have to support each other and help each other. That’s one thing I felt. I felt that support and help from Ducks fans.
The Michigan native and former first-round pick wanted more than anything to make it back into NHL action before the season ended. His work ethic reflected that desire, even forcing Ducks coaches and trainers to reign him in at times, maybe protecting the eager youngster from himself.
“Jonesy was that guy that after day one of working with him, I had to go to PetSmart to get one of those shock collars,” Ducks Skating & Skills Development coach Larry Barron, who frequently works with recovering players, recalled with a big laugh. “He was pulling so hard I had to zap him a little bit. He’s a guy who just truly loves the game and is such a team guy. The maturity that evolved of him having to sit back, watch and handle those emotions, that will make him a more well-rounded player in the long run.”
When the season ended, at the recommendation of General Manager Pat Verbeek, Jones took a month off to reflect and mentally turn the page towards a new season. But when it was time to get back after it, Jones hit the ground running and the hard work he put in is paying dividends in training camp.
“He put in the time. He got after it,” Barron said. “And where we are at present right now, the ice is his playground. He’s getting back to his identity, how he contributes and how he can be an impact player for this team.”
“He’s had to go through a ton of adversity,” head coach Dallas Eakins added. “He’s on the other side of it now…He’s clearly focused, excited and extremely fit. He looks very ready to go.”
Those offseason off-ice activities included the virtual battlefield as Jones and Terry formed a “Call of Duty: Warzone” team with new teammates Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano. Jones pointed to Strome as the unofficial leader of the group, crediting the offseason signee as the one who is always picking up fallen comrades and helping position the group for late-game success. He also admitted with a hearty laugh that his on-ice “loose cannon” aggression carries over to the game as well.
And, much like in real life, he and Terry stick close together.
“Me and Troy play off each other a bit, and Frankie and Stromer are team players, man,” Jones said. “Every single night we’ve gotten a win so far. Everyone carries their weight and we hold each other accountable.”
With nearly a year now gone by since the injury, Jones says he feels like his old self again, calling the first day of training camp “the best day of his life” with an ear-to-ear grin.
“It’s like a weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “That first day of camp, I woke up in the morning and I felt relieved. I was driving to the rink with the windows down and just feeling awesome. It was just like tingles when I got on the ice.”
Jones, after some relentless badgering of Eakins, made his return to NHL action Sunday in Anaheim’s preseason opener at Arizona, and quickly found himself in the middle of some post-whistle scraps, as clear a sign as any that he was truly back.
“He’s one of those guys you love to have around, Terry said. “It was hard for us, and I know it was hard for him not having that last year. You can be around the guys but it’s a different feeling going to battle with them every night. It’s a feeling I’m excited for him to have back.”
Now, he turns his sights to opening night at Honda Center, an evening he’s well aware will bring out some buried emotions.
“Stepping out to that ice, hearing your name called and seeing the fans is really special,” Jones said. “It’ll probably be a little emotional for me, just because I know I got so much support from Ducks fans.
“I think I’ll just be fired up and excited to play in front of those fans again.”
anaheimducks.com is the official Web site of the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim Ducks is a trademark of Anaheim Ducks, LLC. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 2021 Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club, LLC and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved. If you are using a screen reader and are having problems using this website, please call (714) 940-2900 for assistance.