Rochester, Mich – Kent Hughes has had a busy year, to say the least. The newly-hired Montreal Canadiens general manager certainly has his hands full helping run a National Hockey League team, especially one of such high profile as the 25-time Stanley Cup champion Canadiens.
Despite his job at the highest level, Hughes was adamant that he was going to finish the journey with his Boston Jr. Eagles team at the Chipotle-USA Hockey 16U Youth Tier I National Championship.
“It was about four years ago that we started this voyage of sorts,” said Hughes. “It wasn’t all about Nationals. You just try to develop and have fun playing hockey with a group of kids and families.”
The journey is culminating with Nationals, but it was somewhat of a rocky road to get to this point. The COVID-19 pandemic altered their plans of attending Nationals a couple of years ago, and last year the team played up a year so they were not able to qualify.
This year feels like all of the hard work has paid off for the team.
“It was great [when we qualified]. I think we all went into it thinking that if we played well that we could end up winning and we did. The boys were thrilled.”
Hughes certainly had enough on his plate in his professional life to justify not being able to come to the tournament. In addition to Hughes’ new role, Montreal also hired a new interim head coach that some USA Hockey fans may recognize – Martin St. Louis, who was coaching the Mid Fairfield Rangers one year ago at the Chipotle-USA Hockey 14U Youth Tier I National Championship in Dallas, Texas.
Were any of these new changes going to stop Hughes from coaching his team this year? Not a chance. He knew that he not only wanted to come coach this team and finish the journey, but he needed to.
“This was the opportunity the kids had looked forward to over the past few years,” said Hughes. “I felt like if I could make it happen to be there, I would definitely be there to enjoy that moment with them.”
Hughes and the rest of the Jr. Eagles coaching staff have been enjoying the journey to Nationals so far and they want to continue to soak in all of the opportunities.
Hughes had a couple of simple messages for the kids heading into the tournament.
“We always try to talk to them about being excited to seize the moment instead of being afraid of failure. And that’s what it’s all about,” said Hughes. “We may have success, we may not have success, but we’re trying not to worry about it. We’re going to try to rise up and see who can be the difference-maker for the group and rise up to the challenge.”
Hughes has been through this Nationals experience with his two sons, Riley and Jack, who both play at Northeastern now. He said he coaches the same way whether it’s his own kids or someone else’s.
When asked about the journey with this team, he smiled as he thought about some of the memories he’s had.
“It’s about the relationships you make and how you can help the kids along the way,” said Hughes. “It’s meaningful, I still have guys that I’ve coached text me all the time. I have coached them from the time they’ve put on skates to now.
“One of the great things about this group is I’ve just had the good fortune to get to know everyone. The players, the parents, they are all just good people. I think I’ve just had a lot of fun being around them.”