Art Jones may lack the name recognition of Saskatchewan NHL greats like Gordie Howe and Hayley Wickenheiser, but those who knew him say he was among the best of his generation.
Dan Jones would love to see his uncle get more recognition in his home province.
“They refer to (Art) as the Gretzky of his time because of the way he could handle the puck and the way he would move,” Dan said.
Art Jones was born in Bangor, Sask. in 1935. He turned pro in the Western Hockey League in the 1957-58 season, at a time when the WHL was a minor professional league. He made a name for himself with the Portland Buckaroos, winning six scoring titles.
He is the second all-time scorer for the old WHL, registering 1580 points in 1180 regular season games. Jones also holds the league record for most points in a season with 127.
His prowess with the puck and uncanny scoring ability earned him the nickname the “Red Baron.”
After his retirement, he made Portland his permanent home. When Jones died at age 86 in February, he was heralded as a local hockey legend. Portland Winterhawks team president Doug Piper called Jones a “trailblazer for hockey in Portland.”
He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
“I think there’s a lot of respect down there for sure, less up here of course,” Dan said during an interview at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
While the Red Baron was a force on the ice, he was soft spoken and modest off the ice. Tom McVie, a former NHL coach, sat beside Jones in the locker room and swears the star centreman would nap between periods.
“I used to have to wake him up because we had to go back out on the ice,” McVie said with a laugh. “He was scoring 100 points per year.”
“He was just fantastic. He was amazing.”
In the modern NHL, Jones would have been worthy of a $6 million salary, McVie said.
For the majority of his career, there were only six teams in the NHL, meaning there were few jobs were available. At one point, the Montreal Canadiens obtained the NHL rights to Jones, but he never made the jump. Many Buckaroos alumni feel it was due to politics because Buckaroos head coach Hal Laycoe had been blamed as a catalyst to the Richard Riot in 1955.
As a player for the Boston Bruins, Laycoe high-sticked Maurice Richard, setting off a chain of events that saw the Rocket suspended for the regular season and playoffs. Montrealers rioted in response to a punishment they viewed as unjust.
Laycoe, from what was then Sutherland, Sask., had a tendency to draw players from his home province.
“What I’d like to do, is get a birth certificate and say that I was born in Saskatoon. I’d get more ice time from coach Laycoe,” McVie said.
During the inaugural Buckaroos season, six players had Saskatchewan birthplaces. The team dressed as many as 10 Saskatchewan players at one point.
The Buckaroos had a home in Portland as part of the WHL from 1960 to 1974.