Rather than looking at where their youngest son Luke will end up in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, parents Jim Hughes and Ellen Weinberg-Hughes talk to Luke about daily improvement. It’s the same message they deliver to their other two sons, Quinn and Jack.
“The short term is to get better every day and it’s always been that way,” says dad Jim, who has a long history in the game of hockey, from his playing days at Providence College to coaching the Orlando Solar Bears in the now defunct IHL, assistant coaching the Boston Bruins and holding a front office job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Get better every day and worry about your next game; your next game is the most important game because it’s the next game. We kind of live by that as a family.”
So far, so good. The eldest boy, Quinn, who has been eating up minutes on the Canucks blue line this season, is awaiting a return to play along with his Vancouver teammates, who were hit hard by Covid-19. Quinn was drafted in 2018, seventh overall and is one of that team’s young stars and core players. Jack, the lone forward of the three brothers, was taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2019 and is the team’s Number 1 centreman.
This year will be Luke’s turn. The 17-year-old has followed his brother’s skate tracks as a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Luke, a defenceman, is committed to playing next season at the University of Michigan. He’s expected to be a top-5 pick at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Quinn played in the U18 worlds in 2017, helping the Americans to a gold medal. Jack competed in the event twice, with Team USA winning silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019. Quinn and Jack also teamed up together with the Americans at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with their team finishing second (Quinn helped USA to bronze a year before at the WJC). Jack and Quinn also played at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
“I know when Jim and I got into this, we never looked at the big picture, saying we hope our kids are professional athletes one day,” says Ellen. “We more just wanted to share our common passion with the game. We both played at the collegiate level and wanted to expose our kids to it. And I think it just organically happened for them. They had a dad who worked in pro sports and they grew up around the rinks. There was never a grandiose plan that we thought they would play in the National Hockey League. But we’re so proud to see where they’ve been able to get to.”
Quinn and Jack were born in Orlando when Jim coached in the ECHL. Luke was born after the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire and Ellen remembers the boys playing a ton of outdoor hockey together during their time there.
“It was evident right when we got there (Toronto), with kids wearing jerseys to school and Hockey Night in Canada and the visibility of hockey in Canada,” says Jim. “It was readily apparent when we showed up, we couldn’t get over it. All of these things, all these components, the passion and the love of the game and the playing in big tournaments for reputable organizations, it’s like youth hockey on steroids. It was just a really good time for all three boys in their lives to get exposed to a sport they love.”
The family would relocated back to the United States later, as the boys were or were about to be teenagers, and all three have gone through, and excelled, as part of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP). The program has teams at the under-17 and under-18 levels, where teams play a mixed schedule among college, USHL, and international opponents and eventually the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Often, players in the program are competing against older opponents.
“It’s been instrumental in all of their growth. The discipline it takes, the strength and conditioning, the practices, learning how to travel internationally, learning how to compete on an international stage, how to play at the USHL, where they are 17 year olds paying against 18, 19 and 20 year olds,” says Jim. “How they have to grow as a unit from one year to the next. The first year is turbulent and it’s rocky because they’re playing against older competition on a daily basis. And then they have the opportunity to play 15-18 Division 1 colleges in the second season. For them to go in and play a Boston University or Providence or Michigan or Michigan State and Notre Dame, it’s invaluable experience for their growth in terms of where they’re trying to get to.”
Luke says he’s grateful to be the third in the line of the Hughes boys, as he gets to learn from his brothers.
“Watching both of my brothers go through junior hockey and college and now to the NHL, it’s been great for me,” says Luke. “I’ve got to watch what they’ve been doing, what works and what doesn’t at different levels. Just to have them as guys to talk to about the game and little things that they can teach me, it’s been great for my development.”
Don’t be surprised to see the name Hughes more often in the NHL soon. Beside the three brothers there’s also 2022-draft-eligible Jack Hughes on the U18 national team, who is not related to the three brothers.