Jake Cox felt lost when the buzzer sounded ending the St. Louis Jr. Blues hockey team’s season in the finals of the NA3HL Fraser Cup March 31 in Romeoville, Ill. The Metro Jets of Waterford, Mich., won 3-2 in overtime and claimed the championship despite a valiant effort by Cox and his teammates.
A forward on the Jr. Blues, Cox was filled with emotion — because of the loss and his junior hockey career ending. He didn’t want to be the first one off the ice, so he wandered around and then decided to pray, kneeling at center ice and making the sign of the cross.
“God’s given me a lot through my four years of junior hockey,” Cox said. “He gave me four years of a safe career. He gave me an opportunity to play along with some of my best friends now. I just thought it was a good opportunity to thank Him for everything, all the opportunities He’s given me.”
When he finished his prayer, Cox said, he look up and saw the captain of the Metro Jets, Griffin Sawyer, who approached “and said, ‘Do you mind if I pray with you?’ I said, ‘No, not at all.’ We said a prayer, and after that I just kinda got off the ice. It just kind of happened. It was very spontaneous.”
The native of Columbus, Ga., returned home after the season. He and his parents, members of St. Anne Parish in Columbus, are checking out places for him to train before his college season begins. Cox has committed to play NCAA hockey at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., a team in the Northeast 10, a Division II conference.
He’s excited to make the adjustment to playing in college, balancing hockey and schoolwork. Georgia is no hotbed of hockey, but he was a fan of the Columbus Cottonmouths, a minor-league team and became interested in the sport, playing in the Columbus Hockey Association and then on a travel team, with four seasons at the AAA Tier 1 level for the Thunder Hockey Program. He had a GPA of 3.45 in high school.
Acquired by the Jr. Blues in October via a trade with the Point Mallard Ducks, Cox continued his successful four-year stint in the NA3HL. With St. Louis, he scored 29 goals and 26 assists in 35 regular season games, including a goal against Atlanta on Feb. 4 that set the all-time NA3HL league record for career goals at 98. He increased that total to 107.
Cox called St. Louis “something special.” He lived with what’s called a billit (host) family, Jen and Derek Walker and their two sons. In a junior hockey tradition, families open their home to young men from across the country and around the world, providing them with support and guidance as they embark on their hockey careers.
“We were quite lucky to be able to get Jake as a player this year, and since his arrival in St. Louis he has been nothing short of excellent,” Jr. Blues head coach Chris Flaugher noted in a statement congratulating Cox on his college placement. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege to coach, has a great, positive attitude, and his stats speak for themselves.”
With the Point Mallard Ducks, Cox was selected for the Top Prospects Tournament three times. He began the 2017-18 campaign in the NAHL with the Shreveport Mudbugs, where he played briefly there and again with the Ducks.
Cox was the second-leading scorer during the Fraser Cup games. Bud Winter, a St. Louis University High School grad on the Jr. Blues, was the third-leading scorer. Also for the Jr. Blues, the defensive pairing of Matthew Hohl, a SLUH grad, and Ben Jones, a CBC grad, went through the national tournament run without giving up a goal.
The moment between Cox and Sawyer after the championship game was a glimpse of the sportsmanship, faith expressions and love of the game of hockey that’s often overshadowed by other incidents in sports. Best of luck to them as they continue in the sport.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.