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Photos: Mark Nessia

Parallel paths lead Bear and Jones to Bakersfield

by Ryan Holt | AHL On The Beat

Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones have gotten pretty familiar with each other over the years.

They were born just 20 days apart, both were selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft (just seven picks apart), and for two seasons they faced off on opposing blue lines for rival teams in the Western Hockey League.

Now they’re both turning pro with the Bakersfield Condors, are paired on the blue line together, and spend their time away from the rink in the same apartment.

Bear and Jones wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s nice to have another rookie to go through the same things with and not feeling like you’re the only rookie and alone,” said Jones. “We do have a lot of young guys too for those same experiences.”

“I look at it as a benefit to be mentioned together,” said Bear. “It’s fun, it takes the pressure off, and helps us focus more on just playing.”

Bear and Jones are just two of the four first-year players who have already seen time on the blue line for the Condors in the opening weeks of the season. The young defensive corps will be key for the team moving forward.

“You’re starting to see guys that the organization recognized a need for over the past couple of drafts start to filter into the system,” said Condors’ head coach Gerry Fleming. “There will be a learning curve, no doubt, but we feel very confident in their abilities.”

The adjustment to the professional game has already started for both rookies.

“On the ice, guys are just bigger and stronger,” said Jones. “It’s definitely been an adjustment from junior, and getting used to the speed and strength of these guys.”

As for the off-ice adjustments?

“Cooking for myself every day (has been the biggest change),” joked Bear.

Early injuries on the Condors’ back end has meant more playing time for both, and they’ve stepped up their game accordingly; Bear has a goal and assist through three games and Jones has a helper through the first week, and both have seen time on the team’s power play.

“They both have very similar skill sets. Shots get through from the point and they have tremendous upside,” Fleming said.

Jones and Bear have garnered plenty of accolades already; Jones won a gold medal as a member of Team USA at last year’s World Junior Championships and Bear has a WHL championship title and won Defenseman of the Year with the Seattle Thunderbirds last season.

Now they’ll form a new partnership in Bakersfield, which they hope will lead to not only success at the AHL level but also with Edmonton in the future.

“Every year you go into camp, you want to play for the big club. But (this) being my first year pro, you never quite know where you’re going to end up,” Jones said. “I’ve experienced what it’s like playing here in Bakersfield and it’s a great city.”

As for all that rivalry stuff from the past?

“I like it a lot better (that we’re on the same team),” Bear quipped. “There’s a lot less chirping, and he’s a good player. Hopefully, our friendship and chemistry off the ice can lead to success on the ice.”

If their recent performances are any indicator, that chemistry is going to be just what the Condors need on their blue line.