It’s hard enough escaping the shadow of a successful big brother. And when said sibling is six-foot-three and a rising star in the National Hockey League, the path has the potential to be even trickier.
“Absolutely, I need to live up to what he’s done,” Caleb Jones says when asked about the expectations that come with following in older brother Seth’s footsteps. And he’s prepared for the inevitable comparisons. “I just try to play a solid game every day. I can’t really do much with the name; it’s always going to be there.”
Sixteen-year-old Caleb is now in his first season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) and a defenseman for the United States at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Seth, 19, is a defenseman with the Nashville Predators.
Seth and Justin (the oldest of the three Jones brothers) discovered hockey when living in Denver, Colo., where dad Popeye was playing with the NBA’s Nuggets. Like little brothers tend to, Caleb followed his brothers’ lead and took up the game himself. He was three and a half.
Being three years apart in age, Caleb and Seth never played competitively against each other growing up. Instead, when they played together it was all in fun – most of the time, anyway.
“There was a couple of time it got out of hand,” remembers Caleb. “I’d slash my brother if he beat me or we’d get in a huge fight on the ice. We’d have to get off and would be in trouble with our mom.”
That spirited streak stayed with Caleb, and it’s eventually what caught the attention of the NTDP. “Caleb’s a very competitive guy,” says Don Granato, the head coach for the U.S. “There’s a good grit factor to him – we liked that.”
“It was a dream come true being chosen for the program,” says Caleb. “Ever since my brother came here [from 2010-2012] I wanted to. He said it was really hard, a grind, but it made you a better hockey player and a better person.”
As far as the games that got them both to Ann Arbor, Mich. – and now Seth to Nashville – Caleb sees both similarities and differences. “We’re both two-way defensemen,” he says. “I’d say I play a little more physically than he does – and a little meaner.”
It’s hard to believe that the smiling baby-faced boy sees himself as mean, but his coach concurs.
“Caleb plays with a lot of grit and a lot of bite,” says Granato. “And he thrives on that. Seth was more of a finesse player. Caleb likes to battle and he likes physicality.”
While Granato did not coach Seth, he is familiar with him from his time with the NTDP, and says both Jones boys bring more than just hockey skill to the rink.
“The depth of character and person – that’s the number one ingredient in Caleb and Seth,” he says. On the ice their skating and their agility gives them an edge. “Their athleticism is a power.”
Caleb also played football and lacrosse when he was younger, and the athleticism and agility he honed playing other sports has helped him on the ice.
Caleb’s end goal is to one day join Seth in the NHL, and if the younger Jones brother had the power to draft the team he played for, he’d be looking northeast of Nashville, to Pittsburgh. “Ever since they drafted Crosby in 2005 I’ve been a fan.”
This week Caleb has his eyes on one prize that eluded his brother. Seth played the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011 and came away with a silver medal.
“Now that I think about it, if I win that gold I got something on him,” laughs Caleb.