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.