Photo by Rena Laverty
Jack Hughes has heard it all during his first season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. No, he is not “the” Jack Hughes, the Jack Hughes who was the first overall NHL draft pick in 2019 and of the NTDP’s royal Hughes family, also including brothers Quinn and Luke.
And no, he is not playing college hockey at the University of Michigan; rather, he is going to play college hockey at Northeastern University. But for him, it is all in good fun even if “Jack Hughes” is a common name.
“I have heard it plenty of times,” said Hughes. “People get confused about it too. We were doing autographs after the game, and somebody told me, ‘I’m looking forward to watching you at Michigan’ and I think he was confusing me for Luke. I have people sending me messages on social media, asking me, ‘Are you the real Jack Hughes?’ It doesn’t seem confusing to me, but I can see where it is.
“I know three other Jack Hughes' too. It’s not only confusing here but it’s also confusing back home too. I really don’t mind. It’s kind of fun.”
The funny thing is that Hughes does come from a hockey-playing family. His dad, Kent, played for Middlebury College while his brother, Riley, currently plays for Northeastern and was selected in the 7th round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers.
“I started playing hockey around 2,” said Jack, who grew up in Westwood, Mass. “My older brother played, and my dad played growing up and through college.”
Hockey wasn’t the plan at first, but he grew to love the sport.
“It wasn’t my choice at first to play,” he said. “As I was getting older, I knew that hockey was the sport I wanted to play if I had to choose without a doubt. Being on teams, you get closer with the guys more than anywhere else. You make a lot of good friends.”
He did play other sports growing up before finally settling on hockey.
“I played baseball and lacrosse, but they were both in the same season, so eventually I had to choose and picked lacrosse [in fifth grade],” said Hughes. “It was my second sport. This is the second year that I will only play one sport. It was big for me not to play lacrosse so I could work out after school and do other things.”
Hughes’ dad served as his hockey coach when he was growing up. Kent was always there to support his hockey-playing son.
“My dad has coached me up until this year,” he said. “It’s different not to have him on the bench. I would hear something every shift — he would be telling me something even if I thought I was playing well. That is different but it’s not a big difference.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
Riley, who is three years older than Jack, was probably the one who toughened up his younger brother for hockey.
“Ever since I started playing hockey, I always wanted to do what he did,” said Jack. “If he started taping his stick a certain way, I would do it the same way. If he would tuck his socks into his jersey, I would do the same. He had a big impact on me playing hockey. Whenever he is in the basement shooting pucks, I feel that I have to be doing the same thing. He definitely helped push me.”
After playing for St. Sebastian's School in Needham, Massachusetts, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward had to make the transition to the NTDP. It was definitely an adjustment at first, playing in the United States Hockey League (USHL).
“A lot of the players in prep were big and fast but the players in the USHL are bigger and faster,” he said. “They are skilled too. It’s definitely hard but with the guys we have on this team, they make it easier for me from shift to shift.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
He knows that playing with the best kids, day in and day out, will only help him improve his game.
“They are all working hard and doing different things on the ice and you want to match it, maybe like a move. Everyone pushes each other. There is a lot of competition with each other,” said Hughes.
Hughes and his Under-17 teammates finished up their second international tournament — the Four Nations in Russia — by sweeping all three games played. He understands the importance of taking everything they have learned to date and applying it to their international games.
“We brought confidence,” he said. “Right before we left for Medicine Hat [Alberta], we won our first USHL game and that was big for us. I think it showed that we can play with those teams. It showed that we can beat teams, as long as we show up and play with confidence.
“We went into Russia not knowing what to expect. We were there to win the tournament, we showed up and were ready to play.”
Hughes already understands how tough it can be playing international games. After all, Team USA placed second in their first international tournament — the Under-17 World Challenge in early November.
“It was really special,” said Hughes. “We had a good time. We played well until the last game. I think we were a little tired. Playing against other countries was cool. It showed our team that we are up there, and we can compete there.
“The semifinal game was fun. We played Canada White for a second time and it was getting a little scrappy the first time around. We beat them, 7-3.”
It’s a big reason why he loves wearing the colors of his country.
“It’s really special every time to put it on,” said Hughes. “Even before practices or games, it’s a reminder. It helps you get focused and get dialed in.”
At the end of the day, Hughes credits some of the little lessons from his head coach, John Wroblewski, as part of his development and of course, helping mold him into not only a better player but a better person.
“He talks about doing all the little things right,” said Hughes. “It translates at [home] and even other things away from the rink. All the little details are important.
“I never made my bed when I got up before this year but now, I feel like I have to make my bed. It’s not always my parents who are at the house, so I help out even with the dishes, especially after I finish eating. [Coach Wroblewski] has implemented for all of us, the little things that we try to do every day, whether we are at the rink, or on the ice, or at home.”
Stick to those lessons on and off the ice and Hughes will make a name for himself in no time.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.