International Ice Hockey Federation

American-made in Canada

American-made in Canada

Toronto-raised Hughes ready to defend gold

Published 26.12.2017 11:01 GMT-5 | Author Ryan O'Leary
American-made in Canada
Quinn Hughes battles for the puck against Swedish captain Rickard Hugg during the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
When you’re the son of a hockey coach, picking up and moving every few years tends to be the norm. Quinn Hughes’ story is not much different.

The American defenceman – and projected top-five pick in this year’s draft – was born in Orlando, Florida, where his father Jim Hughes was coaching the Orlando Solar Bears of the IHL.

But this isn’t your typical father-son hockey story. There’s a woman involved as well. Jim’s wife Ellen, and Quinn’s mother, was a standout soccer and hockey player at the University of New Hampshire, winning three national titles in her time there.

After a two-year stint in central Florida, Jim took a job behind the bench with the Boston Bruins. This was Quinn’s first exposure to the NHL and his first chance to rub elbows with hockey’s elite.

“We were around all of the rinks as kids, we still have tons of pictures of us in the locker rooms,” Hughes began.

“I liked Joe Thornton. He was really fun to watch as a new player coming up in the league. He was really cool with us when my brothers and I were around the Bruins.”

You can say the “hook” was put in Quinn early, but time in Boston was short-lived and the Hughes clan ventured northward to Toronto when Jim began coaching the Toronto Marlies – the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs.

Jim was given the coaching position by his former Providence College classmate, John Ferguson.

Two years in Toronto became three, then five and so on. Jim was continually promoted inside the Leafs organization, becoming the team’s Director of Player Development before joining the CAA Sports Agency as a consultant.

A rarity in the coaching profession, Jim spent more than ten years in one place working for the same organization. That stability also meant that Quinn spent a majority of his life living in a foreign country.

“At the end of the day of the day Quinn lived 11 years in Canada,” Ellen said. “The access and proximity to hockey made him better and I’m not sure we could’ve found that anywhere else.”

Though Jim traveled a ton, Quinn was able to develop a special bond with his dad.

Jim allotted precious time at home to attend Quinn’s games and hold private film sessions – special moments for both father and son.

“He was a real teacher of the game and was always there for me,” Quinn reminisced.

“Some guys in hockey don’t have time for their sons, but he invested a lot of time with me. It holds a special spot in my heart.”

The elder Hughes took great joy in passing down his hockey knowledge, but made sure to avoid being heavy-handed when teaching Quinn.

“It’s always about the presentation with athletes,” Jim began. “The message is everything. You start with some positives, sprinkle in a little negative and they’ll be receptive.”

Meanwhile, when Jim was on road trips Ellen was busy rushing Quinn and his two brothers off to school, hockey practice and endless skates on Toronto’s numerous outdoor rinks.

But she wasn’t your average hockey mom. Ellen was also a defenceman growing up and wasn’t shy about correcting Quinn’s game when needed.

“It’s mostly my dad that was hard on me, but she could be hard on me too,” said Hughes.

“She knows a lot about hockey, so I respect her opinion a lot.”

As two people familiar with competing at the highest level, Jim and Ellen also made sure their kids pursued excellence in all they did.

“We wanted to provide the structure, the environment and the competition for them to love and thrive in hockey,” Ellen said.

“We also said, do it your best or go do something else.”

American At Heart

Being exposed to the Canadian game made a major impact on Quinn but one thing he never lost was his American identity.

When asked if he’d ever considered filing for a Canadian passport in order to play for Hockey Canada, Quinn answered point blank: “Nope, there was absolutely no decision to be made.”

“I was always American and always rooted for the United States, even in Canada, and took a lot of heat for it too,” Hughes said proudly.

It’s something you can’t deny when speaking with the family. They’re American and vocal about it as well.

Playing for (or supporting) Canada would be downright blasphemous.

Jim is a Long Island guy and Ellen was raised in Dallas, Texas, playing hockey with the boys until sports took her to New England for College.

Ellen played for the USA at the 1992 Women’s World Championships, while Jim competed at the Spangler Cup in 1989.

“We were always patriotic, always cheering for the red, white and blue,” Jim Hughes said.

When watching any sporting event involving the United States, it was U.S.A. all the way – especially when the World Juniors came around.

In Canada, the holiday season is usually described as “World Junior time” rather than “Christmas time” or “New Years”. Millions tune in to watch the young guys the same way they would an Olympic Final.

This phenomenon isn’t lost on the Hughes, who watch right alongside their Canadian neighbors, although their rooting interests remain firm for the United States.

“My kids wore the U.S. colours and took a lot of heat for it,” Ellen said. “My kids have such pride in being American and were exposed how big the world juniors are just by being in Toronto.”

Quinn and his family went to the tournament in 2011 when it was hosted in Buffalo last. They watched in awe as several future NHLers donned their national jerseys and put on a spectacular show – but little did the Hughes know that in just seven years time, their son Quinn, would be doing the very same thing when the tournament returned to Buffalo.

“I know what it’s all about,” Quinn said. “Everyone at home will be watching and I can’t wait to compete with everyone watching.”

Developing the American Way

The way Canadians treat Major Junior Hockey, like the OHL or the QMJHL, ranks right up there with their devotion to the World Juniors.

The OHL has a draft, is broadcasted across the world and kids leave home to pursue hockey full time. In pursuing his future, Quinn and his family had to weigh the pros and cons of this professional approach to junior hockey.

“Growing up in Canada, I could see the pressures of the OHL for the Canadian boy,” Jim said.

Quinn gave the OHL some consideration – as any elite talent growing up in Canada would – but ultimately decided it wasn’t right for him.

He wanted to develop the American way as he put it.

That meant attending the United States Development program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, rather than playing alongside his friends up north.

But the decision held more significance than simply taking an alternate route.

“Growing up in Toronto I was opened up to the CHL a little more than college, but I thought the development program would give me a chance to become the player I am today.”

Hughes says the OHL is always an option and if he wanted to go there now, he could, but the uniqueness of the USNTDP made it irresistible.

“They don’t care about wins or losses,” he continued. “They want to make guys better and there aren’t a lot of programs like that in the world.”

Quinn was adamant about growing all aspects of his game rather than placing himself in the pressure cooker that is the Ontario Hockey League.

“Everything got better and I was happy to be in the weight room a lot so I could get bigger and stronger to go along with my skating.”

Jim was proud of the way his son evaluated his options and made his own choice.

“It was a hard decision for Quinn, yet it was easy,” Jim said. “Quinn was smart enough to see the development aspect and saw the value in what the program had to offer.”

Now two years later, on the verge of a major tournament and the upcoming NHL draft, his dad says Quinn has developed into a player in the ilk of Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith.

“He has hockey sense, great vision and is a fantastic skater,” Jim said of his son as he slipped into scout mode.

“Oh, and he has passion and courage.”

There was another byproduct of Quinn joining the USNTDP in Ann Arbor – the opportunity to wear the U.S. sweater on a consistent basis.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent my country so that also factored into my choice,” Hughes finished.

Defending Gold for the U.S.

Country pride and hockey purity are great – and Quinn Hughes exemplifies both in spades – but make no mistake about it, the defenceman wants to return home with a gold medal around his neck.

The U.S. has never won back-to-back World Juniors and 2018 affords a wonderful opportunity to do so. The United States is considered the favorite in the field.

“Our goal is absolutely to win a gold medal,” Hughes said confidently. “I think it’s in the back of our mind to defend, especially for the guys who are returning.

The tournament is on home-ice and there’s even an outdoor game at New Era Field against rival Canada on New Year’s Eve. The spectacle is not lost on Hughes or his U.S. teammates

“It’s a huge stage and anytime I’m playing, I’m going to give 100%,” Hughes continued.

“But when you’re playing for the United States, there’s a different feeling and it means just a little bit more.

The United States will begin that title defence on December 26 against Denmark and the entire Hughes clan will be in attendance.

And rest assured, they’ll relish the opportunity to cheer for their son and the U.S. along with some friendly faces on home soil.

 

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