Newly minted Spokane Chiefs captain Bear Hughes is happy with his play, but at the same time he knows he can do a little more.
“My biggest problem is just inconsistency. There are games where I play very well and am pretty dominant out there and then there are other games where I am just average,” said Hughes. “I kind of just fit in, which as a 20-year-old, I can’t really do that. I have to be more of a dominant player in this league. I have to be more consistent.”
Hughes made the jump to the WHL with the Chiefs after spending the 2018-19 season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Spokane Braves, earning Rookie of the Year, Top Scorer and Most Valuable Player honours in the Neil Murdoch Division. Hughes has had conversations with the Chiefs coaching staff about his play and said consistency is something that has challenged him the past couple seasons.
“When your confidence gets down, then you are not going to play as well,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just to make sure I do everything I can in preparation the week leading up to a game. Going into the game I feel good about myself and know I did everything right that week and I can just go out and play. There are also times where fatigue plays in when you are playing three games in three nights and it’s hard to tell sometimes. You feel like you can be doing more when you are doing as much as you can.”
Hughes was selected by the Washington Capitals in the fifth round, 148th overall in 2020 NHL Entry Draft after putting up 16 goals and 47 points in 61 games in his rookie WHL season in 2019-20. As of Feb. 1, Hughes has 12 goals and 35 points in 34 games.
There have been many changes with the Chiefs lineup with injuries and trades, including captain Jack Finley being moved to the Winnipeg Ice. Hughes said that can make it hard to build chemistry.
Since joining the Chiefs, Hughes has improved his skating, but recognizes the need to get bigger and stronger, as he is listed at 171 pounds. His confidence has grown on the ice and he has become more comfortable carrying the puck through the neutral zone and on the power play, which he is a key figure on. Five of his 12 goals are on the power-play.
“I think my vision in the offensive zone, my hockey IQ is my biggest asset,” he said. “I just have to let that work for me and work as hard as I can every night and compete.”
He’s received valuable input from the Capitals, who want to see him add weight and be harder to play against.
“They like my compete and that I’m a leader,” Hughes added. “I think that’s a big part of being a hockey player. It shows that I’m a good teammate.”
They want to also see him improve the small details of his skills.
“I feel like I should be doing more, but at the same time, there is only so much you can do,” he said. “I just have to focus on getting better everyday and that will come.”
Hughes was named the 35th captain in franchise history on Jan. 20.
“Bear exemplifies everything we’re looking for in a leader,” said Head Coach Adam Maglio, a former Nelson Leaf and Castlegar Rebel, in a team statement. “He has a tremendous work ethic on- and off-the-ice, leading by example in all aspects.”
“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn to be a good leader with a really young group in Spokane,” said Hughes. “I think a lot of the guys look up to us older guys and they can learn a little bit from us. Hopefully I can make the best of it.”
Hughes learned from Finley and Ty Smith, the New Jersey Devils defenceman, who was the captain in the former Braves’ rookie season. Hughes said he believes there are different kinds of leaders.
“There are some guys who are more vocal, and more guys like myself who lead more by example,” said the 6-2 centre. “There are times when you have to speak up, but for the most part, I try to lead by my actions and try to do everything right every day on- and off-the-ice. Being competitive and making your teammates better.”