Eleven minutes remained in the third period Friday night when Seth Jones slipped into the home dressing room, grabbed a quick shower and headed to the airport. He took a redeye from Portland to Atlanta and arrived early Saturday, hopped a connecting flight and landed in Buffalo about 10:15 a.m.
The circuitous route across the Lower 48, all too familiar for people bound for Buffalo, was an appropriate course for the fresh-faced, 18-year-old defenseman. Jones has learned there is no direct path to an NHL arena. The map is usually dotted with unexpected stops interrupting a maze of squiggly lines in a picture not always clear.
Too amped from his game Friday and too amped for his game Saturday, Jones dozed off for only about 90 minutes of his 3,200-mile journey. Still, he was determined to place a checkmark next to an important item on his agenda: The inaugural All-American Prospects Game in First Niagara Center. He made the trip worthwhile.
"It really has been," Jones said. "The fans were great tonight. We had about 5,500. It was awesome. You could really feel the energy. Most of the players know each other and play with each other. They were going at it. Everyone was hitting each other like it was a playoff game. It was really fun."
Nice kid, Seth Jones. He scored the second goal Saturday night on a slap shot from inside the blue line to help Team McClanahan to a 5-2 victory over Team Housley.
You might not know much about Jones. He's just your run-of-the-mill, Plano, Texas-born, African-American son of a professional basketball player who was introduced to hockey in Colorado, blossomed in his native state, attended high school in Michigan and ended up in Portland on his road to the NHL.
Jones is one of the top prospects in North America, but chances are you know more about his father. Popeye Jones played for six teams, including the Dallas Mavericks twice, over 11 seasons in the NBA. He crisscrossed the country as a player and is now an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets.
Popeye was playing in Denver during the 1999-00 season when his son, 5 years old at the time, took an interest in hockey. Popeye Jones, on the advice of Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, first signed up Seth for figure skating. A year later, Seth played youth hockey and was hooked. He never played organized hoops.
"It kind of took off from there,'' he said.
Within four years, Jones' name was on player-to-watch lists in Denver. He drew the attention of Tony Granato, who was coaching the Avalanche. Granato marveled the first time he was Jones over how the kid handled himself. Jones was 10.
"He was always very mature and poised,'' Granato, now a Penguins assistant, said Saturday. "And he was a really good athlete. I had no idea what point he would rank nationally, but I knew he would be a really good player. I knew he would be a college player someday and, then, who knows?"
We'll find out soon enough.
Jones could be the first pick overall in the NHL in June. Canadian forward Nathan McKinnon, known as the next Sidney Crosby - the next Next One - could be taken ahead of him. Jones is certain to be selected long before his father was taken in the NBA draft. Popeye was picked 41st overall in 1992.
Looking back, Seth had an ideal situation. Popeye knew little about hockey and didn't interfere with his son's coaches. Instead, he passed along values that were universal in all sports: maximum effort, selflessness, listening, learning and competing. His son kept growing, improving, pushing, achieving and believing.
"The kid is a player," Granato said. "He could play in our league real soon. He has to continue to develop but his maturity, how he thinks the game, physically, he'll be a top one or two pick next year, and he'll be in the NHL in 12 months."
Five years ago, Jones moved to Dallas. Two years ago, he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., while playing in the U.S. developmental program. He considered accepting a full scholarship to the University of North Dakota before his decision to play Canadian junior made him ineligible.
His final destination remained unchanged. Jones is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, a smooth skater and right-handed shooter, a combination that has left scouts salivating over him for two-plus years. Add his off-ice maturity - he carries himself like a veteran - and he looks like a can't-miss defenseman.
"Just a great athlete and built for today's game,'' said former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley, who this year will coach the U.S. world junior team. "He's big, strong, physical, great defensively, has a good stick, makes an excellent first pass out of the zone and plays in all situations. He's the most well-rounded player [in the country]."
Jones missed the world junior championships last year with an injury but is a virtual lock this year, if he stays healthy. For now, he's settling into the Western Hockey League with Portland. He's taking the proper steps along the way. The latest was Saturday.
Grab a map, draw a straight line from Portland to Atlanta and connect one from Atlanta to Buffalo, and the picture becomes clear. You'll find a giant checkmark even though in hockey, as in life, things often appear to be backward.