SWINDON Wildcats have announced young defender Sam Jones will not be returning to the club next season as he has struck a deal to play in the EIHL.

While the name of Jones’ new club is yet to be revealed by the Wildcats, Aaron Nell’s side stated they were proud to see one of their own progress on to the top level of British ice hockey.

Jones took to the ice 49 times last season, scoring 15 goals – the most by a defenceman in the league – while laying on 15 assists as the Wildcats ended their wait for a first league title under their current guise.

The 21-year-old capped off a memorable first year in Wiltshire by being included in the NIHL South One All-Star Team.

Speaking to the Swindon Wildcats’ official website, player-coach Nell spoke highly of the young defender’s value to the team before wishing him well in the next chapter of his career.

He said: “I’m delighted for Sam on signing in the Elite League.

“I remember talking to him at the start of the season about this being his goal for his first year back in the UK.

“Of course, we would have liked him back in Swindon next season, but as a club, we pride ourselves on developing young British players, so it’s great for Sam to be the next one to make that step.

“This is the right move for Sam. After Christmas he was certainly the best D-man and arguably the best player in the league, and at his age this is a great opportunity for him.

“He made a great impression on all the players, and I know they are all happy for him in securing a place at the higher level.”

Despite only spending one season at the Link Centre, Jones enjoyed plenty of success and quickly made himself a fan’s favourite with his powerful and dynamic displays from deep.

The young defender felt the relationship with the fans was mutual and thanked both the supporters, the club and his teammates for a special time in Swindon.

Jones said: “I would like to thank all of the Nell Family for everything they have done for me.

“When I first arrived in Swindon I was very nervous, but the move was completely effortlessly.

“I am grateful for the time and effort they have invested in my development and me.

“I can honestly say I have never had more fun playing hockey than I have had playing for the Wildcats.

“The team in the locker-room made coming to the rink every day an absolute pleasure, and I am happy to have made some unbelievable memories and some lifetime friends.

“The absolute highlight was of course winning the league championship.

“Finally, I would like to thank the amazing fans. You stuck by us when things were not going well, and thankfully we were able to repay you for that with the league title.

“The Swindon Ice Hockey Community is very special, and I cannot express how grateful I am for all of the friends I have made along the way.”