Keith Jones spent a decade playing in the National Hockey League so as an announcer, why not put him right next to where he did his best work, namely the 32 North American ice surfaces.
Kudos to TNT for realizing that while Jones is a great analyst in the studio, he can provide even deeper insights into the game while speaking from “inside the glass’’ at rinkside.
Jones, the long-time Flyers’ analyst alongside play-by-play man Jim Jackson, says he’s excited with his new role after some 15 years behind the desk at NBC.
He was scheduled to make his Turner Sports debut on Thursday night when, in a bit of a coincidence, he took to the microphone for the Flyers’ visit to Boston’s TD Garden for a preseason game.
“I think there’s an attitude that comes with TNT,’’ Jones offered during a telephone conversation, “which has been established by the great job they do in different sports, especially in basketball. I think we’re all excited to try to bring something different to the table.’’
Just the way Jones was hired by Turner Sports brings a smile to his face.
“When I found out I was getting the job, I got a Facetime call from (Inside the NBA analyst) Charles Barkley,’’ Jones said. “He’s good friends with Wayne Gretzky and Rick Tocchet (also now working for Turner) and Tocchet told Charles it looked like I was going to be hired. So Charles called to welcome me to the team.’’
Barkley and Jones both have an irreverent sense of humor, so there was an almost immediate personality connection.
“When you get that phone call, everything is kind of gone to the wayside,’’ Jones said. “You focus on the great opportunity it is to work with Charles and you also realize it’s a great chance for hockey to really benefit from all that Charles is. When he’s talking hockey – and I think they’re producing some commercials – it’s going to be about him promoting hockey. I think the NHL is going to be in a really good position because of that. I was pleased to get the call but even more excited because it was from Charles.’’
Can you imagine the conversation and the laughs when these two get together on or off camera?
“I think if we get in a situation where we’re out having dinner, we’re going to have a lot of fun, I can tell you that,’’ Jones said. “There’s only one Charles. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him and be on the set with him a couple times when he visited the Stanley Cup Final. He’s one of those larger-than-life characters.’’
Down between the benches, Jones says he loves offering perspective from live action.
“I’m excited about the position, I think it’s fresh. . .I love being at the game,’’ he said. “I enjoyed my studio time for a long time but I love the live action. I’ve been fortunate enough to do Flyers games for the last 15 years. I’ve been in that ‘in the arena’ experience and there’s nothing like it.’’
Any tips from former NBC inside-the-glass guy and ex-Flyer goalie Brian Boucher, who’s now working the same job for ESPN?
“He’s great about it,’’ Jones said. “We talked a lot when he was being introduced to that role. I think he’s done an outstanding job. Like all teammates that pass through Philadelphia, we have a bond that lasts forever. No question we’ll be bouncing things off one another to try to put the best product out there.’’
As a left wing who replaced Mikael Renberg on the Legion of Doom line with Eric Lindros and John LeClair, Jones is qualified to speak about the game, especially the forward position.
“It will be a really enjoyable experience to watch both teams down low,’’ Jones said. “Get a real feel for exactly what’s going on. Try to gauge the temperature from a different sight line. Sometimes when you’re up top, you can feel like you’re watching a Broadway play and miss some of the moments that are happening down at ice level. I had a good feel for those moments when I was playing and I think I’ll do a good job of recognizing what’s important for the viewer at home and trying to relay that message, when things happen and before things happen: A fight, a set play, whatever.’’
Jones knows when to keep it light and when to get serious. When he’s standing that close to the ice, he’s thinking like a player.
“If you’ve played and you’ve been in those situations, that type of analysis can go a long way,’’ he said. “Taking the viewer inside the game. That’s the most important thing. Try to make sense of what you’re seeing, something the fans might not see.’’
While Jones is getting started on something new from his end, he also understands Turner is also new to hockey and might be bringing in some casual fans along for the ride. Will there be somewhat of an education process here in the early going?
“I think you want to try some new stuff,’’ said Jones, 53, who played for Washington, Colorado and the Flyers during a career that pretty much spanned the ‘90s. “I think it’s a great opportunity to bring in some more casual fans. But at the same time, you don’t want to be so over-the-top that the diehards are going to be frustrated by it.’’
If there’s one guy who can keep it interesting for both casuals and diehards, it’s Jones. It’s because he’s one of the best in the business and the reason why they keep putting him on national TV.