Wednesday, 06 January 2016 15:19

Hughson lassos chance with Brooks to play near home

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Hughson lassos chance with Brooks to play near home Contributed by Windsor Star

In sports, there is an old adage about how “it’s not how you start, but how you finish.”


For 6’3”, 196-lb goaltender Garret Hughson, a native of Foremost and the latest addition to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s South Division leading Brooks Bandits (29-6-2), that couldn’t be more true.
After having a bad start to the year with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs — a team he had been with since the 2012-13 season (0-2-1, .833 save percentage) — he was released and picked up on the waiver wire by the Niagara Ice Dogs in late October.Then he was immediately traded to the Windsor Spitfires for a draft pick.
For those keeping score, that’s 3,337 km from Spokane Wash. to Windsor, Ont. Now he’s back in Alberta in Brooks near his hometown (150 km from Foremost) and couldn’t be happier.
“It feels really good to come home and be part of a great team (and) great organization ... (the players) have been good since I got here,” explains a tired, yet relieved-sounding Hughson Jan. 5, who had only arrived in Brooks that morning. “It’ll be fun with family being able to come watch me.”
There should be a contingent of Foremost-area friends and family as the Bandits play host to the rival Drumheller Dragons (17-19-4) at the Centennial Arena Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
A big goalie, Hughson is different physically than current starter Josh Davies (5’11, 165 lbs) or even current backup Jonathon Reinhart (6’0”, 175 lbs). Hughson says he likes to play out and doesn’t like being jammed in the crease too much.
Bandits’ Coach and General Manager Ryan Papaioannou is excited to have Hughson.
“He’s a guy who we’ve been keeping tabs on since his days in midget (in Medicine Hat). He took the path with the Western Hockey League and when the opportunity came up, we wanted to get him here,” explains Papaioannou. “We know what kind of goalie he is as he has worked with our (goalie) coach Matt Wong for a long time and so we were keeping tabs on him. We like his size at 6’3” and he is considerably bigger than anyone we have now and he has big time experience and he has been on the big stage with Spokane.”
The Bandits have made numerous moves since Dec. 1 with trades and other signings. Papaioannou adds that he holds discussions with team captains who he has a lot of faith in this year to ensure all of the player moves aren’t messing with on or off the ice chemistry. Seems to have worked. The Bandits are currently on an 11-game winning streak.
In rodeo circles, travelling is all part of the sport. Going from town to town, it’s not uncommon for a competitor to drive amongst three provinces to get to three different events in one weekend.
This is a probably a good thing for Hughson who participated in a rodeo or two in his time as a roper and has a slew of family who have also participated. His brother Kale is in novice riding and his dad Vane Hughson was a saddle bronc champion in the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association in the mid-eighties. Garret understands travelling long distances to compete in sports that one loves.
Entering his fourth year as a goalie for Spokane, Hughson couldn’t have predicted how 2015-16 was going to unfold.
Hughson is a 2011-12 graduate of the Medicine Hat Tigers Midget AAA program. He began working with current Bandits’ goaltending consultant Matt Wong a few years prior to that and has continued that partnership ever since.
While it’s a nice story of coming home to play in front of friends and family as well as getting reunited with his long-time goalie coach, it’s not like Hughson doesn’t know how to play.
As Spokane’s starter in 2014-15, he played in 53 games and went 23-23-4 with a 2.80 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Before that, he was in 48 combined games in the prior two seasons and went 18-13-2 with a combined .892 save percentage. In March 2015, he was the Western Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Week. In total, he had four shutouts with Spokane.
A bad start to the WHL campaign and a desire to reportedly go younger, the Chiefs decided to let Hughson go. After he was released in Spokane, in late October Hughson debuted in Windsor with a shutout. He finished with a 7-4-1 record with a 3.09 goals against average and .895 save percentage. Hughson says he and goalie Michael DiPietro were splitting time and so he decided he just wanted to come home to finish the year.
 Before starting his Junior A stint with the Bandits on Jan. 8, Hughson stopped 2,675 shots in his Major Junior Hockey career between the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League.
His full intention is to play with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns program the 2016-17 season.
Hughson noted one of the reasons he quickly blended with his new teammates is they are of the same mindset as they are all championship-focused as many of them won’t be around next season. A whopping 15 Bandits are committed to play in the United States with NCAA Division I institutions next season anywhere from the University of Vermont, Colgate, Cornell, University of Massachusetts and even Arizona State to name a few.
“We have the same mindset,” explains Hughson about winning now. “It’s great to have a good team in front of you and just worry about playing your game.”
With family and friends who are sure to make the trip to Brooks Jan. 8, there will be no place like home and he hopes to wind up his junior hockey career with helping to rope in an Alberta Junior Hockey League title back to Brooks and hopefully the national RBC Cup Junior A title. The national playoffs will be held in Lloydminster May 14-22.

Read 3677 times Last modified on Wednesday, 06 January 2016 16:23
Ryan Dahlman

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