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Owens happy to be back in Hartford

by Bruce Berlet || AHL On The Beat Archive

Jordan Owens’ style and demeanor has hardly changed since his first stint in Hartford, but he has seen one major improvement in his second go-around.

“I like the new uniforms,” Owens said with a smile. “There’s no specific reason. I like the colors, I guess.”

Yes, many of his teammates are different as Owens is into the green, blue and white of the Connecticut Whale, who were the Hartford Wolf Pack when he first signed with the New York Rangers organization on June 12, 2007.

In a strange twist of fate, Owens’ stay in Hartford ended on Mar. 3, 2010, when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for center Kris Newbury, one of Owens’ favorite players while growing up in Niagara Falls after being born in Toronto. Owens had seven goals and 18 assists in 77 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins before his 2010-11 season ended because of a broken arm sustained with 20 games left.

“It’s weird because I used to watch the Maple Leafs, and (Newbury) was one of my favorites,” Owens said. “When I got traded for him, it was kind of cool and weird at the same time. I didn’t know him, but I liked the way he played a lot.”

It’s a lot like the way Owens plays.

“He plays a pretty straightforward game, so the consistent effort and hustle are kind of a constant in his game,” said Whale coach Ken Gernander, who displayed similar qualities in his distinguished 14-year pro career. “So if he plays a simple, straightforward game and is giving the energy and the work, it’s not going to deviate much. He can play either wing, he can play center, he can kill penalties, he can take draws. He creates pretty good forechecking pressure, finishes his hits. When it gets a little nasty, he can scrap a bit. He brings a lot.”

Owens brought enough in the Whale’s first 12 games that he was given an AHL contract on Nov. 8 to replace the professional tryout deal he signed on Oct. 6, two days before the season started.

“There was a general consensus that everybody appreciates what he does, what he brings, his versatility,” Gernander said. “We’re not extremely deep up front right now, and Jordan is doing a good job.”

Owens has been on a checking/defensive line with Scott Tanski and either Chris McKelvie, Andre Deveaux (who was called up by the Rangers on Oct. 29) or Jyri Niemi.

“There are all kinds of ways to get it done,” Gernander said. “I think if someone were to watch Jordan, if you’re maybe bringing up a young kid and don’t know what their skill set is going to be, but if you want someone who is going to be doing the right things and a good role model as far as work ethic and things like that, he’d be a pretty good example.”

And Owens is appreciated by more than just his coaches and teammates, as fans still drape a banner saying “Jordan’s Corner” over the railing of the upper deck of the XL Center. He remained in touch with many of them during his hiatus to Grand Rapids, which began about 10 days before the Wolf Pack held “Jordan Owens Bobblehead Night” in Hartford.

“I have a good supporting cast, especially my friends in Jordan’s Corner,” Owens said. “My grandparents came down for the bobblehead night from Toronto and my relatives in Ludlow (Mass.) came down to a bunch of games last season, so they’re more excited than anyone that I came back here.

“And I’m happy to be here. It feels like my home away from home. I spent a lot of time in the area when I was younger, and I came to camp this year not being on a high, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Though he wasn’t with the Wolf Pack/Whale for nearly 18 months, Owens said he feels like he never left Connecticut after arriving from the Mississauga IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League.

“It’s been a blur, it’s been five years since I’ve been a pro, but it feels like yesterday that I was coming here out of juniors,” Owens said. “It’s a good feeling to be familiar. I was really excited to come back, not only because it was familiar but I love the new uniforms, so I was pretty happy to wear those.”

Owens first visited the area when he vacationed and went fishing with his grandparents in Springfield. He also has family in Hartford but didn’t meet them until he first arrived in 2006. So Owens never crossed the state line and went to Hartford, settling for rooting for the Maple Leafs and AHL Toronto Marlies, where Newbury also played.

After last season ended on a downer, Owens wasn’t qualified by the Red Wings and became an unrestricted free agent. He got only a few contacts from other teams, some of which were in Europe, but nothing concrete.

“I was pretty desperate,” he said. “My back was against the wall, so I was going to do whatever it took to stick because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. By the time I heard from Europe, it was late summer and they had already started (the season), which made it even tougher to get in. This was my only option, so I had to make sure I stuck here.”

Owens and Tanski weren’t assured of roster spots until late in training camp, and while Tanski was signed to an AHL contract, Owens was relegated to a PTO. But Owens was comfortable in Hartford after having been with the organization and knowing Gernander. He also was helped by right wing Chad Kolarik sustaining a torn ACL in his left knee in training camp and Dale Weise being claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks.

“It definitely is one of the reasons I’m here is because they knew who I was already,” Owens said. “The numbers weren’t really in my favor when I came here, but there were injuries and Weisie got picked up off waivers, so I pretty much got lucky.”

And, as usual, worked and played hard, too.

“Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time,” Owens said.

Now if only he can put a few more biscuits in the basket. In the OHL, Owens’ goals, assists and points increased in each of his three seasons, capped by 32-42—74 and plus-17 in 60 games in 2006-07. He joined the Wolf Pack for the end of the season and playoffs, then played in Hartford and with Charlotte of the ECHL in 2007-08 before becoming a Wolf Pack regular the following season, when he had pro career highs in goals (12), assists (25) and points (37) and tied his career high in plus-minus (plus-17).

Then after getting six goals and 13 assists in 50 games with the Wolf Pack in 2009-10, he was traded for Newbury. At the time, the Wolf Pack were looking for some veteran leadership and grit up front and gave up a hustling, hard-working young wing who was a fan favorite for playing bigger than his 6-foot, 180-pound frame, often rattling the glass when he finished a check. Newbury provided immediate dividends, getting four goals and 14 assists in 18 games, though the Wolf Pack missed the playoffs for the only time in the franchise’s 14-year history.

Newbury continued his production last season, when he led the Wolf Pack/Whale in assists (44) and points (61) in 69 games and earned kudos from Rangers coach John Tortorella, while getting one assist and showing plenty of spunk in 11 games during several call-ups to Broadway. He had four goals, including his first AHL hat trick in the opener, and four assists in four games this season when he was called up again.

Owens has two goals and 13 penalty minutes in 14 games this season, with both goals, including the winner, coming in a 4-2 victory at Adirondack on Oct. 28. He said he still plays the same as he did in juniors but hasn’t found the back of the net as often, though he was usually in more offense situations, including on the power play, while with Mississauga.

“I don’t know what happened. I used to score more goals,” Owens said with a smile. “When I came here, I knew I had to find a way to contribute night in and night out if I wasn’t going to be scoring. So I turned to being good defensively and blocking shots and hitting and defending teammates if need be.”

And learning what it takes to score at a higher level.

“At this level, and even in the NHL, you get maybe one (scoring) chance per game, and that’s the difference between a goal scorer and a guy that’s not,” Owens said. “A guy who is a goal scorer will capitalize on the opportunity given them. Someone like me needs a couple of chances before I can score a goal. I noticed that after the first couple of games. If you’re playing well, you’ll get a good chance and really have to bear down on it.”

Even if Owens doesn’t do anything resembling rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault’s 35-foot laser from the top of the right circle in the Whale’s 3-2 overtime victory at Albany on Nov. 5, he’s the kind of guy who can have a positive influence on a team. Just the kind of guy who resembles his coach – on and off the ice.

“I’ve grown up a lot and am a lot more mentally strong than I was when I was younger,” said Owens, who has kept in contact with some former Wolf Pack teammates, including linemate Mike Ouellette, now in his third season in Austria. “And being familiar with the rink and the city helps, but as I look around the room, there aren’t many guys here from when I was here, so it’s pretty much a whole new team. But I’m just happy to be here.”