The Portage Terriers have eight graduating players who are forced to move on now that the season has ended, leaving holes to be filled for next year.
Before the Centennial Cup even ended, the organization was planning for next year as they have already filled one of those eight holes. 18-year-old defenceman Nik Jones has committed to play in Portage in 2023-24.
"I came down to the national championship with my family," Jones explains. "We just wanted to get a look at the rink and get a look at the town, and we were impressed. It's a great hockey town with a great hockey culture. I had been in communication with coach Spiller for most of my season. When he offered me an LOI (Letter of Intent), I pulled the trigger. Didn't need to put much thought into it."
Jones had nine points last season for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Edmonton's U18 team but was also the team's captain.
"We had a pretty good season and travelled all over Canada playing. We made the playoffs, got beaten up a little bit there, but it was a great experience, and I think I learned a lot," Jones continues. "What's really important to me is culture. That's one of the things I appreciate most about Portage. I want to win, everyone wants to win and wants that glory, but you also have to put in the hard work and be a team player. I loved that I was able to help out the younger guys on my team with that this year."
During his visit to Portage, Jones had the chance to watch his future teammates break a Centennial Cup record for goals in a game when they defeated the Kam River Fighting Walleye 12-2.
"One thing that really impressed me was how well they moved the puck. It's a completely different boat from U18, where a lot of guys hold onto the puck and try to look good. What I appreciated was that everyone was moving it fast and making good plays. How many of those goals were one-timers or backdoor tap-ins?"
The Edmonton product says this will be his first time living away from home full-time but notes he will have one familiar face to help make the transition easier.
"I'm pretty familiar with Parker Scherr. We played for the same team in U18. Him being in Portage played a factor in my decision," says Jones. "He's a great guy. I like to think that he would mentor me a little bit next season. He definitely looked out for me when we were in Olds (with the Grizzlys). I have a little bit of a soft spot for him. He would always save me a spot on the bus or in the hotel room."
Jones notes on his way back home is where he truly realized how loyal Terrier fans are.
"One of the coolest things that has happened to me is I was sitting in the Winnipeg airport with a Portage Terriers hoodie on. I was excited about signing, obviously. At least six people came up to me and said, 'Go Terriers!' The guy behind me on the plane used to be the team's chiropractor. I'm so excited to be a part of a culture like that."
Seeing Portage go as far as they did in the Centennial Cup this year makes Jones want to help the Terriers make it back to the biggest stage in Junior A hockey.
"It's really important to me. Knowing the winning culture of the Portage Terriers, seven out of the last 15 years, they've won their league. Knowing that they want to win and I want to win is one of the most important things. I'm willing to do anything. I'll accept a role. I play defence. The most important thing to me is just coming here and winning that national championship eventually."