William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in sports. Today, in celebration of Black History Month in the NHL, it features Malik Jones, a 19-year-old forward from the USA Sledge Hockey Team who will compete in the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games from March 4 to 13.
Malik Jones said he could barely hold a stick when he started playing sledge hockey at age 7.
“My right hand was really weak, so I remember they had to stick my hand to the stick so I could hold the stick better,” he said.
Now the 19-year-old forward from Aurora, Colo., has a firm grip on his stick and on the sport as one of the youngest members of the U.S. Paralympic sledge hockey team. of Beijing in 2022.
“The Paralympic Games are a big world stage, it’s a big accomplishment,” Jones said. “All the work I’ve done to get to the bottom of it shows that it’s paid off. Obviously I still have work to do, but I can take a deep breath and say, ‘I’ve got it. do.””
Jones is a rookie on the team who will be aiming for his fourth consecutive Paralympic Games gold medal, but U.S. Paralympic sledge hockey coach David Hoff said he expects to use the teenager extensively during tournament.
“He’s not someone we’re like, ‘Well, let’s just set it up for four years later,'” Hoff said. “He’s someone who we think could be someone we need at crucial times in some of these games. He’s a young man who is going to play and play in crucial situations. We think that he is ready to play now.”
Hoff said Jones first appeared on USA Hockey’s radar when he attended his first development camp at age 12. The USA Sledge Hockey Program coaches saw Jones develop into an offensive player.
“He’s a top-six striker, a striker who can create offense and not everyone has that ability,” Hoff said. “He makes the players he plays with better, giving them scoring opportunities.”
Jones was without shins – shins – in both legs, which prevented him from walking. His legs were amputated when he was 10 months old.
“It didn’t stop me at all,” he said. “I have walking prostheses, I have running legs. I was also skateboarding. I was doing all of that.”
He got into sledge hockey after his grandmother heard about a local program and asked her grandson if he would be interested in joining.
“I said, ‘Yeah, why not? ‘” Jones said. “We went out on a Saturday and I got on the sled, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Jones joined the Colorado Avalanche sledge hockey team, which became the first NHL-affiliated sledge hockey team in the country in 1996.
At age 14, he was among the sledge hockey players who played away at Coors Field in an exhibition game between the Avalanche sledge hockey team and the Avs Warriors which was part of the festivities surrounding the 2016 NHL Stadium Series game between the Avalanche and the Detroit Red. Wings.
Jones said he enjoys sledge hockey because of the camaraderie and sense of independence it gives him.
“It helped build my character because I’m around other people like me and it made me happy that there were other people like me who had the same or similar difficulties growing up. “, did he declare. “Being in this environment made me feel good. When I’m with them playing sledge hockey, I don’t feel like I have a disability. I feel normal. I can do everything.
Jones said he didn’t know about the Paralympic Games and international competition until his third year of sledge hockey.
“I’ve never watched hockey before, never been interested in it,” he said. “Once I started playing for a while, I started getting more interested. And then I found out about the Paralympic Games, and ever since that’s been one of my goals. And now I going to Beijing.”