by Bryan Zollman
When hearts break together, they mend together.
That is the hope of the Roseville and Gustavus hockey communities as they deal with the sudden loss of one of their own.
Jori Jones, 19, was traveling with teammates when they were involved in a two-vehicle accident Aug. 20. Jones did not survive the crash and later died at a nearby hospital.
Remembered as a bright light with a constant smile on her face, Jones was a goaltender for Roseville-Mahtomedi, winning 32 games in her career. As a senior she was a semifinalist for the Senior Goalie of the Year Award given to the state’s top netminder. Her on-ice talents catapulted her to the college ranks where she served as a member of the national champion Gustavus Adolphus squad.
“Jori exemplified everything you want in a student athlete,” said Roseville/Mahtomedi Head Coach Craig Rosenthal. “She excelled in the classroom, was a caring teammate, a great goaltender and above all just genuinely a good person who treated everyone with a kind heart.”
Rosenthal called an emergency team meeting after receiving the devastating news.
“We talked to the players about who Jori was and what she meant and her legacy that we want to carry on in our program,” Rosenthal said. “There were a lot of hugs and a lot of tears. When tragedy like this strikes outside of the season and you’re not together it can be tough.”
Rosenthal visited the Jones family and said her father, Jon, coached Jori and her siblings Kylie and Beckham through their youth years. Kylie will be a senior this year and Beckham is a second-year bantam.
Rosenthal remembered Jori as a committed player.
“What made her so great was her preparation,” he said. “She took it very seriously. She was always ready to play.”
Rosenthal said she was a consummate teammate, always positive and always rooting for her teammates to do well.
Kylie Wiltse was more than a teammate to Jori. She grew up in the same neighborhood in adjacent houses with their backyards virtually connected to one another.
“My sister is a year older so it was always Jori and my sister and me and Kylie (Jones),” she said. “Us four were always together, whether at the rink or the house.”
Wiltse called Jori a ray of sunshine wherever she went.
“She had an amazing personality,” she said. “She’s just one of those people you want to be around. She’s constantly smiling. She walks into the rink and says hi to everyone and was an amazing teammate. She’s always positive and was always dancing in the locker room.”
Wiltse said she has seen a steady stream of people visiting the Jones home offering their condolences.
“You never know how big the hockey community is until something like this happens,” she said. “The hockey community is unreal. Seeing everyone come together is amazing.”
A GoFundMe page was set up to help the Jones Family and more than 1,300 donations had been made while raising more than $118,000. Wiltse said it’s hard to find the right words to express how much Jori meant to her family, friends and teammates.
“There’s so much you can say about her,” she said. “How good of a teammate she was, how good of a sister she was. Everyone is in shock right now and it’s not going to be easy to move past. It’s going to be hard.”
Steve Carroll was Jori’s goalie coach at Gustavus Adolphus College. He watched Jori play in the section playoffs and visited her after a tough loss.
“I visited her after the game and despite the loss signaling the end of her high school career I was impressed with how upbeat she was and curious to learn more about our program,” Carroll said. “We had a nice conversation and I could tell she would be an excellent fit for our program both on and off the ice.”
Carroll was able to spend a year with Jori who served as a backup goalie on their national championship squad. He said she was a hard worker who was always looking for ways to improve her game.
“Jori always greeted me with a friendly smile, and a ‘hello Steve’ delivered in her own unique and memorable way,” he said. “It’s something I will always remember about her.”
Carroll said losing their teammate has been tough.
“The Gustavus players are a close-knit group,” he said. “They’re like sisters in a family and this tragedy has hit them hard. We know it will be a difficult day-to-day journey moving forward without Jori, but the coaches and players are doing all we can to support each other.”
Carroll described Jori as a hard worker and a positive person.
“She was a wonderful young lady with a positive attitude and welcoming smile for everyone,” he said.
Rosenthal said losing someone like Jori puts things in perspective. He said the program will always honor her legacy of having a positive attitude, strong work ethic and making everyone around her happy.
“A team is like a family and when tragedy strikes everyone has to lean on each other,” said Rosenthal. “She was a special one and she will be missed.”