LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Popeye Jones developed a love for hockey while watching the Maple Leafs on Saturday nights during his two seasons with the Raptors.
That initial taste of Canada's sport -- from 1996-98 -- was passed down to Jones' three sons, who are doing good things on the ice in their hometown of Denver.
Justin, 15, Seth, 11, and Caleb, 9, all play hockey in Denver with the oldest two excelling at the triple-A level. Popeye, who is acting as an assistant coach at NBA pre-draft camp, is coming to Toronto this weekend to watch Seth play in a tournament where he will be coached by ex-London Knights coach Lindsay Hofford. Justin played in the Toronto Marlboros' annual Christmas tournament this past winter.
"There is no better (minor) hockey anywhere in North America than in Toronto," said Jones, who has been spotted buying hockey equipment in Toronto and can rhyme off names of arenas and streets in the city, far away from downtown.
"I really didn't get into it until I was (playing in) Toronto and I started watching (Hockey Night in Canada)."
A fan favourite during his time with the Raptors, Jones' playing career ended in 2003-04 after a short stint with the Golden State Warriors. But he is keeping busy in the real estate business while also being a devoted hockey dad.
Jones' sons expressed interest in playing hockey when he was playing basketball for the Denver Nuggets. One day in the gym at the Pepsi Center, Jones ran into Colorado Avalanche star Joe Sakic and asked how his kids could get involved in hockey. Sakic told Jones to enroll them in skating lessons and the rest is history.
"During the playoffs, my wife and my kids all want to watch hockey and they make me go to the basement to watch basketball," Jones said.
Jones was asked why his boys don't play basketball.
"Isn't that crazy?" he said. "You'd think I could teach them how to play."