Sled Hockey’s Malik Jones Gets To Play Alongside His Idols At The Winter Paralympics
by Stuart Lieberman
Malik Jones poses for a portrait on Oct. 28, 2021.
It wasn’t too long ago that U.S. sled hockey stars Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal were the young bucks on the ice.
At the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, Farmer, then 16, and Roybal, then the youngest member of Team USA at 15, made their debuts at the Games. Both made key contributions to help power the U.S. to gold against Russia.
Heading into next month’s Beijing Games, Farmer and Royal are the world’s best one-two forward punch, and they’ll look to extend Team USA’s gold-medal winning streak to four.
They’ll have the help of 19-year-old Malik Jones, the newest standout young forward on the U.S. national team. Jones cherishes both Farmer and Roybal as his role models as he prepares for his own Paralympic debut.
“I started to watch sled hockey a lot as a kid, and when I turned on the Paralympics for the first time, I saw Declan and Brody as the two people I looked up to because when they went to their first Paralympics they were also really young,” Jones said. “I really wanted to achieve that from a young age.”
Team USA will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed, and as both the reigning Paralympic and world champions. The squad is seeking to capture a record-extending fourth consecutive and fifth overall gold medal.
Jones, who grew up in Aurora, Colorado, received an email last fall that he’d made the U.S. sled hockey team for the first time. Only a few months later, he cracked the roster as a forward for the Paralympic Winter Games.
In Beijing, he will be only the second Black athlete to have represented the U.S. in sled hockey at the Paralympics. Tim Jones, of no relation, was the first when he represented Team USA at the 2006 and 2010 Games.
“I’m expecting that I’ll have a lot of fun, that I’ll learn a lot from my teammates and (will) win some games,” Malik Jones said. “The Paralympics are the world’s second largest sporting event, so it feels good that I’m representing a community and all the people who look up to me. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what color you are, you can do anything you want to. You’ve just got to put your mind to it.”
Malik Jones plays during a sled hockey match in 2021.
Jones, born without shinbones, had his legs amputated when he was 10 months old and has been playing sled hockey since he turned 7. He had to tape his hand to his stick back then, as he could barely hold it in his tiny hands at the time. He moved up progressively through domestic clubs and leagues, and by the time he was 12, he attended his first national development camp.
“Ever since I went to that first local sled hockey practice, I’ve loved it ever since,” he said. “I felt very normal when I was on the ice, and it was a good feeling of that cold breeze going through my face and going fast. I just felt normal. I didn’t feel like I had a disability at all.”
As a teenager, Jones played for the Colorado Avalanche sled hockey team. That led to the opportunity to partake in an outdoor exhibition game at Coors Field as part of the 2016 NHL Stadium Series game festivities.
Gritty and shifty on the ice, Jones is as calm as a cucumber off it. He prefers spending time in group settings observing how others conduct themselves as opposed to being the vociferous one. He’s taken that approach for as long as he can remember.
“I’m just a calm person. I don’t have a high personality,” he said. “I’m more in the quiet group, trying to take it all in and learn from the veterans on the team. I’m funny at times, but I’m more of the chill guy in the locker room.”
Jones graduated from high school last year, and after Beijing he plans to pursue a path in culinary arts. A rich breakfast — most notably biscuits and gravy — is his treasured meal, but more recently he has learned the importance of prioritizing protein, fruits and vegetables into his diet more regularly.
With a viable diet, calm composure and lionhearted approach on the ice, Jones feels ready to make his Paralympic debut.
So what is he looking forward to most? Playing alongside his idols, Farmer and Roybal.
“I love having them on my team,” he said. “It feels so much better knowing that they are on my team and have my back through anything that we go through.”
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for more than 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.