ERIE — Coming out of high school, Nick Jones figured he was destined for club hockey.
Now he has aspirations of pro hockey.
The Cranberry Township resident and Mercyhurst University senior defenseman has developed into one of the top players in the 12-team Atlantic Hockey Association.
“He’s certainly one of our best players,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “He’s been a captain here for two years and a big part of our team.
“Nick is the quarterback on our No. 1 power play unit. He’s also a good defender who we try to match up with the other team’s best offensive threat. He’s a good offensive defenseman — just a solid all-around player.”
Jones played two years of varsity hockey at Seneca Valley. He also played for the North Pittsburgh Wildcats, Butler Valley Dawgs and Junior Penguins while growing up in the sport.
“I always thought I’d be a regular college student, attend Pitt or Penn State and play club hockey,” Jones said.
Then he received an offer from the Jersey Hitmen of the Eastern Junior Hockey League — and he couldn’t refuse it.
“It was a chance to extend my playing career,” he said.
Jones played 95 games in two years with Jersey, tallying five goals and 25 points during the 2009-10 season. He then fielded a few college offers.
It didn’t take long for him to figure out Mercyhurst was the place to go.
“Division I hockey, close to home, a scholarship and I had a chance to play there right away,” Jones said. “Once I visited there, met the players ... it was the right fit for me.”
And Jones has proven to be a pretty good fit for the Lakers.
In four seasons there, he has tallied 28 goals, 57 assists and 85 points. That includes six goals and 19 assists this year as Mercyhurst is 15-10-5 overall.
Jones was a first team All-AHA performer last season and was third team as a sophomore. He will likely be a first team all-league player again this year.
“He will definitely wind up in pro hockey somewhere when he leaves here,” Gotkin said. “Nick has the size and all-around skills. He could play in the East Coast League (ECHL) right now and he might get a shot in the American Hockey League.”
Gotkin would know. He has 453 career wins at the collegiate level and is in his 26th year at Mercyhurst. He has sent 11 players on to the AHL and one — Jamie Hunt — who spent a few seasons with the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Jones stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 195 pounds. He is third on the Lakers with a plus-10 and he’s blocked 30 shots.
“He covers the ice well and has a great shot,” Gotkin said. “Besides his defensive abilities, he will serve as a catalyst offensively for any team he plays for.”
Once the Lakers are through playing, Jones hopes to catch on with an ECHL or AHL team before the pro season is done.
“I don’t know what kind of interest there will be, but maybe there will be a team out there looking for depth and I can get my foot in the door,” Jones said.
“I’ll take my shot and go as far as I can go.”