WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – Malik Jones was always poking around the kitchen, helping his parents prepare whatever was going to be on the table, while growing up in Aurora, Colorado.
“I watched my parents cook and I always loved helping out around the kitchen,” he said. “I really developed an interest in cooking when I took [a] culinary class my senior year [of high school].”
He gets the most enjoyment out of his first meal of the day.
“I really love breakfast food,” he said. “Any type of breakfast and it doesn’t really matter what it is.”
Jones can whip it up on the ice as well. The 20-year-old is a member of the Colorado Avalanche sled team that won the Tier I championship at the 13th annual USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL, in Wesley Chapel on Nov. 21.
Jones was born without tibias, had both of his legs amputated at 10 months and has three fingers on both hands. From a young age, Jones got into hand cycling and other sports. His grandmother was always looking out for his sporting interests and discovered a local sled team that Jones started playing on when he was seven.
“I went one Saturday,” he recalled. “I fell in love with it and have been playing it ever since.”
Jones said he enjoys the physical nature of the sport, but more importantly, the bonds that are created among players.
“As a disabled kid, I wasn’t really involved in middle school or high school sports,” he said. “Being involved with extracurricular activities and having that camaraderie was really nice. I fell in love with sled hockey instantly. The brotherhood of hockey and team camaraderie are the things that are really great about it.”
Jones, who is a big Colorado Avalanche fan and counts Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Matt Duchene, who is now with Dallas, as his favorite players, has built quite a career between the boards. He’s already won gold medals at the Paralympic Winter Games and Para Ice Hockey World Championship, doing so in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
“I have had a pretty good career,” he said. “I hope to keep improving every year.”
Jones became the second Black sled hockey player to represent Team USA at the Paralympics in 2022. Tim Jones (no relation) was the first, as he won a bronze medal in Torino in 2006 and gold in Vancouver in 2010.
“It is pretty cool to see people of my color get involved with sled hockey,” Jones said. “I met Tim a couple of times, and he seems like a really nice guy.”
One of the many elite players Jones shared the ice within Beijing was Declan Farmer, a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, and four-time world champion. The two have spent significantly more time together since Farmer joined the Avalanche earlier this year.
“Ever since he came to Colorado, the growth of my game and that of everybody else’s has gotten 10 times better,” said Jones. “Being around Declan, his work ethic and seeing the things he does on a day-to-day basis has helped with everybody’s growth.”
Participating in events such as this year’s classic only shows Jones how much sled hockey is growing around the country.
“The game has grown so much every year,” Jones concluded. “Every year I see more and more kids at the Sled Classic. The game has grown exponentially, for sure, and it has been great to see.”
Jones and the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team are traveling to Quispamsis, N.B., Dec. 3-9 for the Para Hockey Cup, where Team USA will compete with Canada, China, and Czechia for its 11th title all-time, the most of any nation.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.