OSHAWA, Ont. — The hockey season can feel long if you're Hunter Jones's backup with the Peterborough Petes.
Jones had started all but two of his team's 20 games in 2018-19, and had logged more minutes than any other netminder in the Ontario Hockey League entering Monday night's Canada-Russia Series matchup.
He put in the work in the summer to improve his conditioning knowing he would be taking over the starting role in Peterborough, and has his fingers crossed that all the ice time will pay off for NHL scouts in attendance.
"My goal is to get drafted at the end of the year," said the Brantford, Ont., native, who was born six days past the cutoff line for the 2018 NHL Draft.
"I also want to give my team a chance to win every night — that would be great for us to make a really good playoff run. I think we're capable of something special."
Jones has gone 11-8-0 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .927 save percentage to help Peterborough stick around the middle of the pack in the league standings after the Petes won only 23 of 68 games and missed the post-season in his rookie year.
His save percentage is even more impressive when you consider he's facing the most rubber of all goalies at 32 shots per outing.
He says the key to his early-season success comes from the style of game he's tried to play with his six-foot-four, 195-pound body.
"I'm efficient, I'm athletic, I'm not slow in the net, I like to use my speed when I can and my size to get around," Jones said.
As positive as this season has been for Jones, who was selected for Team OHL as part of the six-game series against the Russians, the same can't be said about the adversity that came in his rookie year.
Last season was a learning curve after coming out of Junior A as he spent the season backing up Dylan Wells, usually only getting the scraps at the end of a three-games-in-three-days set. He played only 15 games, going 3-9-0, and allowed more than five goals against per outing on a team that finished second last in the OHL Eastern Conference.
Because of his numbers and limited role, Jones entered this year as the No. 8-ranked goalie amongst draft-eligible keepers in the Canadian Hockey League by NHL Central Scouting and feels he had to get a better understanding of the OHL so he could prove himself.
"The quickness and speed of it all," Jones said about what he had to figure out to be successful. "The shots came faster, you have to read plays quicker, that's a huge role when you're a goaltender.
"I'm definitely a better goalie than I was last year."
The Canada-Russia Series allows Canada's top juniors an opportunity to show world junior head coach Tim Hunter what they have ahead of December's selection camp. While the odds are stacked against Jones for this year's team, he still believes he has the talent to get Hunter's attention, even if it means staying on the radar for 2020.
"I think I have the talent level to pursue that goal," said Jones. "Being 18 not sure if it'll happen this year, but I think I am capable of making the team this season and it's just what their plans are."
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press