Ann Arbor — Among the last Wolverines off the ice, Quinn Hughes, the Michigan defenseman, pulled off his helmet, sat on a bench in his practice gear and talked about being the son of hockey players.
“They definitely knew what they were doing,” said Hughes, an 18-year-old freshman ranked among the top half-dozen players eligible for the NHL draft. “My parents have kind of guided us.”
Hughes’ 16-year-old brother, Jack, plays junior hockey in the United States National Team Development Program in Plymouth. A forward, Jack also is a top NHL prospect, with his offensive creativity splashed on YouTube.
The youngest of the hockey playing Hughes, Luke, 14, is a defenseman for Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club. Scouting agencies have begun to list him.
“My dad says he’s advanced beyond me at some things when I was that age,” Quinn said of his youngest brother.
“Dad” is Jim Hughes, a former defenseman for Providence College and an assistant coach in the NHL for the Boston Bruins. Mom is Ellen Hughes, who played for New Hampshire when not also winning letters in lacrosse and soccer.
Her name then was Ellen Weinberg.
The Hughes all moved last year from the Toronto area to Michigan because of the opportunities in hockey for all three brothers.
“Growing up, everything was hockey,” Jack said before a two-hour practice on Thursday. “We’d be with friends on the outdoor rinks and then we’d go home and play mini-sticks until we went to bed.
“I mean, we all love the game, the three of us,” he said. “It played such a big role in our lives, and we’ve had so many great opportunities through the game.”
Of his parents’ purpose and focus, Jack said, “They would have been fine with us if we didn’t play. They don’t push anything on us.
“We’ve always had the drive and the love for the game.”
Nonetheless, encouragement and instruction are always present. Even an uncle, Marty Hughes, played for Boston College.
“My dad would bring home clips, and we’d watch a lot of NHL hockey together, the four of us,” Quinn said.
As he coached in Orlando, Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire, Jim Hughes said, his sons “grew up in a hockey environment.”
With a three-sport athlete as a mother, the father said, “We didn’t know what sport it would be, but I guess we thought our kids would be in athletics, some sort of competitive sports. And my wife got them involved in skating when they were very young. That’s what we did. We were a hockey family.
“I would take the kids to practices when they were young. They’d sit and watch the Bruins play, with a bucket of popcorn. But they played every sport. They played lacrosse. They played soccer. They did cross-country. They did everything. But hockey was obviously always their priority sport.”
Ellen Hughes, a 2012 inductee of the University of New Hampshire Athletics Hall of Fame in four categories — ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer and as a coach — said her sons’ hockey development has been a natural.
“You know what, I don’t think we ever put any thought or plan into it,” she said. “It was an organic process for our family.”
As simple as taking Quinn to Jim’s games when he coached the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, she said, “Which was fun! I could go, and he was such an itty-bitty, little kid.
“And then, when Jimmy was coaching with the Boston Bruins and Robbie Ftorek, they would go to all of the games. They were begging to get out on the ice.
“I can remember being at Robbie’s house when my youngest, Luke, must have been barely 1, and we couldn’t find him. And he had taken skates off of the wall of Robbie Ftorek’s place, and he was downstairs standing with them on.”
The move to Michigan developed similarly, more by happenstance than design, the Hughes all say.
Quinn left the National Training and Development Program last season and knew he would play at Michigan, and shortly after Jack chose the program over playing juniors in the Ontario Hockey League, Little Caesars called to see if Luke wanted to move from the Toronto Marlboros bantam squad.
Logic dictated a move.
In separate interviews, the brothers express a lot of respect and admiration for each other and the two older brothers say they hope Luke will be interviewed.
They reveal a lot of knowledge about each other’s games.
Quinn described the atmosphere growing up as intense.
“It’s very competitive,” the Quinn said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s mini-sticks or ping-pong or who’s got the remote. It was really fun growing up. It was pretty crazy. I’m sure it was stressful on my mom.”
The Hughes brothers have brought high performance with them to Michigan.
Luke’s team won an International Silver Sticks Championship at the 56th annual tournament this month in Port Huron.
“The team played pretty good and we’re kind of on a roll,” Luke said. “I think I played pretty good. I had four or five assists (in seven games).
“It wasn’t a big point tournament for me. I was just trying to be a good teammate and get my team the wins.”
After a rare point-per-game performance by a defenseman in major junior hockey in the USHL last season, Quinn has a goal, 11 assists and 53 shots on goal in 19 games for Michigan.
“He’s one of those guys who has that ‘it,’ ” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “And they don’t come along, those players that have ‘it,’ very often.
“He’s a very gifted, special player.”
Jack has 13 goals and 35 assists for 48 points in 24 games for the U.S. Under-17 Team at the development program and one goal and four assists in five games playing for the Under-18 team, for which he is often skating against 20-year-old college and major junior players.
Some headline writers proclaim Quinn the next great United States-born defenseman.
Some call Jack the successor to Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews as high-scoring forwards born in the U.S.
“My dad’s kind of kept me pretty humble, and everyone else like that,” Quinn said. “When I see that I think, yeah, it’s nice. But, at the end of the day, I haven’t really done anything.
“I haven’t played a pro game or anything like that. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Similarly, Jack says the recognition is gratifying, but the truly important accomplishments are yet to come.
“I’m still a kid,” he said. “I’m 16 years old.
“I’m just locked in and worried about my own game and getting better.”