To say it’s been a busy last seven months for defenseman Luke Hughes would be an understatement.
He is getting set to play in his third world championship in that span along with his sophomore collegiate season at the University of Michigan mixed in as well.
“It’s been pretty fast and exciting,” said Hughes, who will captain the 2023 U.S. National Junior Team in the IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins Monday (Dec. 26) in Moncton, New Brunswick. “I finished my [first] season with Michigan hockey and we were disappointed that we didn’t win it all. Then, to be putting on the USA jersey at the World Championship was just amazing and to learn from defensemen Seth Jones and Nate Schmidt, it was an incredible experience.”
Hughes had another experience added to his summer when he came back to the U.S. from Finland following Worlds.
“Once I returned, I didn’t have much time to prepare for the August World Juniors as I had to get my wisdom teeth out,” said Hughes. “And had only about three weeks to get ready.”
During this seven-month time span, Hughes has put up impressive numbers. At the 2022 World Championship, the 6-2, 190-pound defenseman posted one goal and three assists in 10 games while helping Team USA to a fourth-place finish. It was a learning experience for him, and he took so much away from playing with the pros.
“It was great to see what pros were doing on and off the ice,” said Hughes, who was the youngest player on Team USA’s roster at 18 years old. “You realized just how much preparation they put in for the games and to their bodies [to get ready to play]. It was a great opportunity to learn and grow. I really had to study and watch the guys to prepare myself.”
The whirlwind continued in August when Hughes suited up for Team USA again at the 2022 World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, which had been rescheduled from its original date in December 2021. The tournament still strikes a sour note for him, especially after the U.S. fell short of its goal and was not able to bring home a medal.
“Being in the summer, it was definitely a strange World Juniors,” said Hughes, who tallied six points in five games. “I thought we had a good team with high-end skill. I was hoping that we would go all the way, but we didn’t and came up just short. To go 4-0 in round-robin play and then, to lose in the quarterfinals, it was disappointing.”
The loss in the quarterfinals is still what drives Hughes to this day. He understands what the team needs to do to have success at this year’s World Juniors to get back on the medal podium.
“First, we need to grow every day as a team, growing chemistry and building a bond to get better,” he said. “We want to help each other get better. If we do that every day, we will be in a good spot. We are not thinking about the gold medal; rather, it’s one day at a time mentality.”
After two years with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program from 2019-21, Hughes took his game to Michigan where last season in 2021-22, he earned All-American honors and was the Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year after leading all NCAA defensemen with 39 points in 41 games.
In his second season with Michigan this year, he serves as an alternate captain and posted 18 points in 20 games before the winter break.
“Having the opportunity to wear the ‘A’ has been huge for me, especially with 12 freshmen on the team,” Hughes said. “I want to help my teammates get better. I also think it helps with my development, too. I want to get stronger, both mentally and physically.”
Hockey has been part of Hughes’ life for as long as he can remember. His dad, Jim, played hockey at Providence College while his mom, Ellen, was a three-sport athlete at the University of New Hampshire. They spent plenty of time helping Luke in his journey.
“They have had a huge impact of where I am today,” said Hughes, who was picked fourth overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 2021 NHL Draft. “They pushed me as a player and a person to become better. They are a huge factor of where I am today, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Hughes’ two older brothers were also first-round draft picks — Quinn of the Vancouver Canucks and Jack of the Devils. They have pushed him and encouraged him to be the best. The duo also helped toughen him up a bit, playing street hockey and mini sticks in the basement.
“They have had so much influence on my game,” Hughes said. “They are my two biggest role models and I love training with them in the summer.”
All three of them suited up for the NTDP at different points, and with so much in common, it’s no surprise that Jack and Luke share a unique stat heading into this next World Junior Championship.
It’s rare to play in three world championships in one year, let alone in seven months like Luke will be doing, but that’s a common thread that he will now have with his brother Jack, who represented the U.S. at three world championships in a span of five months in 2019, having played consecutively in the IIHF World Junior Championship (late December/January), Under-18 World Championship (April), and Men’s World Championship (May).
While getting the chance to share the Team USA experience is an honor, the trio of brothers has a dream that hopefully will come true at one point in their careers.
“It is a dream of ours to play together — all three of us at some point,” Hughes said. “I will hopefully get to play with Jack at some point, when I have the chance to play in New Jersey.”
“Really, it’s our dream to wear the USA jersey together, either at the Olympics or the World Championship, and win a gold medal.”
But first, next up on Hughes’ list is suiting up in the red, white, and blue to lead this current World Juniors team. He has gotten advice from his brothers on how to handle the tournament, as Quinn and Jack both played together on the 2019 squad that earned silver, with Quinn playing on the 2018 team that earned bronze as well.
“For the World Juniors, they told me to enjoy the tournament,” he said. “You will wake up one day and it will all be behind you, so you need to enjoy every moment.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.