The Blades, a winning team in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs after a strong regular season. Worn out from a long year, and playing for his fifth team in his fourth league in three seasons, he was ready to quit.
“I just felt like I was pretty exhausted at the end of last season,” Hughes said. “And I felt like I’d lost a love for the game.”
Meanwhile, in Truro, the Bearcats were looking to replace some of the offense lost by an outpouring of graduating forwards, including a trio of natural centres in Brandon Pye, Daniel Perigo and Alex Soumakis. Management pegged Hughes as a player who could fill one of those roles.
Despite having never stepped foot in Truro before, Hughes did have a unique tie to the team. Colby Lanceleve, a four-year vet and graduate of last year’s Truro team, is a distant cousin. While the two had never met, their fathers grew up together as good friends.
With the spring thawing out and the previous season fading further away, Hughes’ emotions became mixed and he started to think on it.
“After the summer came around, I thought I’d give it one more try to win something,” he said. “The Bearcats have a history of winning so it seemed like it would be a good fit.”
A hard-working centre with a playmaking touch, Hughes has used his keen hockey sense and playmaking abilities to be an offensive leader on the Bearcats this season. While others have had trouble finding a scoring touch through the Bearcats slumping November, Hughes has remained a steady force, collecting eight points in seven games last month.
On Saturday night, Hughes was both hero and goat. With less than seven minutes to play, he scored his fifth of the season to break a 1-1 tie. Leaping into the glass, Hughes was swathed by teammates before skating past the Miramichi Timberwolves bench and letting them know it. The Timberwolves would tie the game seconds later, however, and with a minute left in the third, Hughes took a senseless roughing penalty. Tangled up after a whistle, Hughes delivered a gloved right hand to an opponent’s head, putting his team shorthanded to start overtime.
“That was probably the longest two minutes in my life,” Hughes said afterwards. “It definitely wasn't one of my finer moments.”
After starting the season at the top of the Eastlink Division, the Bearcats have fallen steadily since late October. They currently sit in third place, with five games in hand on the division-leading Pictou County Weeks Crushers. The team has given up just 44 goals, well under the league average of 76. On the flip side, they’ve only scored 52 – a league worst total.
“We had a good start to the season and then we just – I don’t know what it is,” Hughes said. “We just kind of tailed off. We haven’t been able to have the finish we did at the start of the season.”
While some additions would help the forward unit, improvements from the existing forward group are needed to carry the load, Hughes said.
“Obviously we’re not the highest scoring team. A lot of our games are going to be close, and we have to play with strong defence to win those games. I think it’s just the little things we have to work on, and fix those little quirks.”