When I saw that John Buccigross of ESPN had written a book with former player and current versus host Keith Jones, I wanted to read it. Buccigross is one of my favorites for several reasons. He is one of the few people at ESPN who care about hockey, he is very funny, he is an excellent writer who grew up not far from Pittsburgh and attended Penguin games when he was young. He was the host of NHL2Nite, a program I still dearly miss.
Buccigross told me via e-mail that he met with Jones a few times at the Versus studios and at his home, then looked up box scores, dates and stats to fill in more about the games Jones mentioned. If Buccigross needed more information, he called Jones and asked him to tell him more about a player or situation.
Jones, on the other hand, spent much of his career as a Philadelphia Flyer, so it would be against my Pittsburgh religion to be a fan of his as a player, but I do enjoy his hockey insights and his sense of humor. When orders were being taken, I placed one and recently finished the book.
Titled Jonesy – Put Your Head Down & Skate the book chronicles the improbable career of Jones. He didn’t come to the NHL because of the talents we often see, but more because of his sheer determination; not because he was in great shape, but because he wanted it so badly.
If you like reading some inside stories about what is said on the ice and how players try to get under each other’s skin, you will find those in this book. Jones is naturally funny and was quite a pest on the ice. You will learn how Jones defied his own odds and kept moving up in the hockey world and in salary range.
But the book is about more than funny asides and hockey stories. Two events helped to shape his life. When Jones was 14, his brother died and he says, “Grieg’s shocking death gave me the gift of perspective. It allowed me to take chances, speak up more, and stick up for things that I normally would not have done because of the more laid-back personality that I had.”
He credits this life-changing experience with giving him the will and determination to make it all the way to the NHL.
A chance meeting with a fan in 1992 while he was playing for the Capitals gave Jones even more of a perspective on life. The fan, John Poor, suffered from cystic fibrosis and was in a wheelchair. “One night I struck up a conversation with John during a game. Most of us don’t like much about ourselves, but one thing I like about myself is that I’ve always had compassion for those less fortunate. It just comes naturally and I’m glad it does.”
The friendship between player and fan developed and became genuine. As John’s health declined, Jones stayed in touch with his family, right until the end of the line.
So while this book follows his hockey life from a very young age, the story is also about life and how we live it. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad. Often it’s difficult, but sometimes very rewarding.
Jonesy is a good hockey read. With Eric Lindros retiring, the stories of his exploits on those Flyer teams that Jones was a part of make for interesting, timely reading.
In the foreword by Ray Bourque, Bourque notes, “Reading Keith’s story will help you understand a little bit of how the journey of an NHL player works. The ups, the downs, and the belly laughs along the way.”
If you still need a reason to pick up the book, you should know that all of Jones’ proceeds from the sale will be donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity that helps children with cancer.
To read more from John Buccigross at ESPN, please click here