by Justin Cait | AHL On The Beat
As the final stretch of the regular season approaches, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have established themselves as a strong contender as they work towards clinching a berth in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Over the last 15 games, the Sound Tigers boast an impressive 12-2-1-0 record and are tied for fourth among all AHL teams in points earned (79 points), just six back of the league-leading Charlotte Checkers.
So what has been clicking for one of the AHL’s hottest teams?
You could attribute on-ice success to the well-rounded offensive efforts, in which 17 different Sound Tigers have contributed goals over the last 10 games.
But Sound Tigers fans and personnel alike may want to thank forward Connor Jones, too.
In his fourth season in Bridgeport, the 2018-19 campaign marks Jones’ third year as the “locker room DJ,” an important position he assumed from former Sound Tiger and current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Kevin Czuczman.
The invaluable off-ice role sets the tone for his teammates around the rink on a day-to-day basis.
“Jonesy lays it on the line everyday for us,” captain Ben Holmstrom said. “You think penalty killing and playing a bottom-six role is hard? That’s nothing compared to being the music guy in the locker room. It’s a hard job.”
Jones would argue that getting in a shooting lane to block a shot is probably tougher than pressing play on his iPhone, but finding musical balance between 25 players who range in age from 20 years old to 35 — and who represent five different countries — is no simple task.
Defenseman Seth Helgeson has a taste for hip-hop and rap. Holmstrom isn’t happy with the tunes unless his favorite Foo Fighters are in the rotation. And the Bourque brothers requested that an abundance of Christmas music be played in the room throughout the entire month of December.
“I’ve been the DJ before, too, and it’s so stressful,” Josh Ho-Sang said with a laugh. “You want to please everyone, you want everyone to play well and sometimes music greatly affects guys on the team, so I have much respect for Jonesy, and every resident DJ in the locker room, because it’s not easy.”
It all begins in the early mornings on weekdays, as games are most frequently played on the weekends, when the team convenes for practices at around 8 a.m.
A self-proclaimed “big country guy,” Jones keeps the mood light in the room by choosing one or two artists and sticking to it.
“Today I picked Dierks Bentley and Billy Currington, switched between those two albums and let it run,” Jones said after a morning skate last week. “Yesterday, I think I did Tom Petty the whole way. That’s usually how I do it in the morning. I also take requests if guys want to hear specific stuff.”
On a typical game day, the mood is evidently different, and the pressure is on Jones to get the Sound Tigers dialed in before they hit the ice.
“Before the team meeting, at around 5 p.m., there’s a lot of Kings of Leon, Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran, and I’ll go old school sometimes with O.A.R. and some Tragically Hip. Just to keep everyone light, but also get guys excited and feeling good,” Jones said.
“After that, I usually have like three or four playlists with some upbeat EDM (electronic dance music) and rap. [Head coach Brent Thompson] doesn’t like the rap though, so he usually gives me a hard time.”
A slight rift with the pregame music is surely toward the bottom of Thompson’s game-day totem pole. After all, with 14 games left in the regular season, Thompson is carrying a career-best points percentage (.637) as a head coach.
As long as his players are buzzing on the ice, he will surely get behind whatever method it takes to get his team playing the way they have as of late.
The DJ doesn’t deserve all of the credit behind Bridgeport’s successful regular season, but Jones has received a fair share of praises for the proven pick-me-ups from inside the locker room walls.
“That’s what makes Jonesy so great, there’s such a great balance,” Ho-Sang said. “He’ll play a little bit of EDM, a little rap, some country music, some soft John Mayer-type music. He’s very versatile, his timing is good, and we’ve been winning, so we’ve been listening to a lot of the same songs leading up to games. It’s therapeutic almost.”
“He sets the tone for everything,” Holmstrom added.
On the ice, Jones consistently leads by example through his defined role as a penalty killer, a hard-hitting two-way center, and has even contributed offensively in the latest 10-game stretch (two goals, two assists).
But ensuring that his teammates are in comfortable space at practice, or in the zone before a big game, means that he can certainly add being a locker room DJ to his resume.
It goes beyond mindlessly pressing play. Jones is one of many around the league that carry the underappreciated part of a hockey team, but one that he’s confident in.
“It’s been three years now of running the music, so it’s hard to keep everyone happy, but I do an alright job.”