hughes feature

Friends become foes for American defenceman

After helping the Toronto Marlboros win the OHL Cup, Quinn Hughes finds himself lining up against six former teammates at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge

Dan Marrazza
November 3, 2015

One of the most important episodes in Quinn Hughes’ life occurred nine years ago, when his father, Jim, was hired as an assistant coach with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. This meant that after a childhood spent in Orlando, Fla. and Boston, Mass., the six-year-old American was about to make Canada his home.

“When I got here (Toronto), I started off playing for the Mississauga Rebels and that was great for me,” Hughes, now 16, said. “But when I went over to the Marlies, that was the best.”

The Marlies that Hughes refers to is not the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm club, where his father served as assistant coach before a six-year run as the NHL club’s director of player development. Quinn Hughes’ Marlies were the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros, the minor hockey organization that has helped developed such NHL stars as Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Sam Gagner.

“Anywhere you go, everyone knows who the Marlies are,” Hughes said. “That’s pretty cool. It’s an unbelievable organization. Most of the best friends I ever have had I made with the Marlies.”

The friendships that Hughes developed with the Marlies were forged as he and his teammates achieved incredible success on the ice, punctuated by an overtime win over the Don Mills Flyers last March that clinched the OHL Cup title.

But as much as last spring’s championship and years of playing and growing up together forever unites the 2014-15 Marlboros, the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C., divides them.

Hughes, despite mostly growing up in Toronto, is an American citizen who will wear the red, white and blue of the United States at the tournament, matching up against six former teammates.

MacKenzie Entwistle will play for Canada Red, Elijah Roberts and Ryan McLeod are skating for Canada White, and Jacob McGrath, Ben Jones and Matthew Strome are suiting up for Canada Black.

“For sure, there’s going to be a lot of competition between us,” said Strome, who served as the Marlboros’ captain in 2014-15. “Especially the three Canadian teams and especially between all the Marlies guys. Right now, we’re just trying to focus as Canada Black and winning the gold and doing whatever it takes to win the gold.

With the seven Marlboros graduates participating in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge competing for four different teams, it seems as if there’s a good chance that several of them will win a medal, if not gold. For each, their mission is trying to make sure that they’re one of the Marlies who medals, not their friends turned rivals.

“It’s going to be really cool,” Hughes said. “I’ve been getting a lot of heat about it (the Canada/U.S. hockey rivalry) from them since we were growing up and watching the World Juniors every year, the Olympics and all that stuff. So we’ve always been going at it and I’m used to taking a little bit of heat.

“It will be great to finally play against them. They’re all good players. I just want to do my best and try to beat them.”

As much as the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge will be a platform for these former friends to compete for medals on an international stage, it’ll also be a huge opportunity for them as individuals. With each harbouring aspirations of having an NHL career, it’s a chance to compete against the top players in the world in their age group, all in front of the eyes of the scouts of all 30 NHL clubs.

“You don’t want to set your expectations too high,” Jones said. I just want to have a good tournament and get to go against some of the guys I haven’t played against before.

“Obviously you’re going to be constantly comparing yourself to some of the other guys. These are all the top guys. But you have to play your own game and keep the tempo of how you play. You can’t focus too much on the other guys because that can reflect negatively on you as well.”

One person who the sizable Marlboros contingent participating in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge definitely reflects on in a positive manner is Dan Brown, the Marlboros’ longtime coach.

“The whole way they do things is outstanding,” Jones said. “Dan Brown and some of the other coaches there, they just brought me in. They showed me the ropes. I felt like their son there. Dan was very good at being tough on you when he needed to be. But if you had a really tough game where you know it, and he knows it, he’d be very easy on you in that way. He’d try to make you feel better. He wasn’t the type of guy to kick you when you were down. He did that very well for all of us, I think.”

“Some coaches make their players go out there and squeeze their sticks tighter and put pressure on them,” Hughes added. “But Dan doesn’t do that. He was awesome. I give a lot of credit to him for me being here today. I think we all do.”

And by ‘all,’ Hughes means all of players in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge who played for the Marlboros, whose standout graduates continue to establish the organization as perhaps the best in the country at developing elite hockey players.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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