Men's hockey gains talented rookie player

October 26, 2012 | 11 a.m.

USHL experience should help freshman forward Mitch Hughes

Sports | Jenny Hudalla  

Men's hockey gains talented rookie player

Mitch Hughes (15) scored nine points for the Sioux Falls Stampede last year. He should be a valuable addition this season for the Royals, who lost last year's top two scorers. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of J. J. Renli

Freshman Mitch Hughes knows what it means to work hard. After high school he devoted two years to the most grueling yet rewarding job he has ever had: living the life of a junior hockey player. 

The Laguna Niguel, Calif. native played four years of junior hockey in the United States Hockey League (USHL), which is the most highly esteemed junior hockey league in the country. In fact, the USHL is often regarded as a breeding ground for NHL players. 

Although playing in the USHL was strenuous, Hughes is grateful for the experience. “It pushed my hockey to the limits,” he said. “You give your life to it, because it’s your job. It’s not for fun; it’s business.”

Hughes played for the Omaha Lancers, the Tri-City Storm and the Sioux Falls Stampede, all of which have overall win percentages above .500. During his senior season with the Stampede, Hughes played 31 games, had eight assists and scored one goal. 

Despite his success in the USHL, Hughes opted out of playing Division I hockey after receiving his fifth concussion early in the 2011 season. Ten games after he was taken off the disabled list, Hughes suffered a high ankle sprain, steering his future in the direction of Division III hockey.

The most notable difference between the USHL and collegiate hockey is that the former allows fighting while the latter does not. Even though Hughes earned a reputation as a player who would defend his team, he is confident that he can make the adjustment. 

“I can still make my presence known on the ice, but I have to do it within the NCAA regulations,” said Hughes. “I’ll stand up for my teammates, and I’ll have anyone’s back.”

Head coach Charlie Burggraf contacted Hughes in mid-July, inviting him to play for Bethel. When Hughes flew out to visit, the intimate campus and Christian hockey community left an impression on him. 

“Coach Burggraf talked about character-building instead of hockey,” Hughes said. “He talked about making his players better people who stand out as leaders. That turned my head.” 

With a 6-foot-2, 213-pound frame, Hughes has a dominating presence both on and off the ice. Coupled with his natural leadership skills, the formidable forward should provide a much-needed boost to the men’s hockey team. 

“What Hughes is going to bring to the ice is his physical presence combined with offense and being able to score,” Burggraf said. “He’ll be a big contributor to play-making.”

Bethel’s hockey team finished last season with an 8-15-2 record, for an overall win percentage of .360. The team struggled on the road, winning only one of 11 games. However, the Royals performed better at home, winning seven of 11 games. 

According to Hughes, the team has a strong momentum going into this season. The coaching staff recruited two other USHL players — Tony Larson and Steven Bolton — and also brought in freshman standouts Eric Szafranski and Brock Raffaele. Moreover, team captains Jon Crouse, Jack Paul and Tyler Swanson have helped develop and unify the team in the preseason. 

“The captains are role models for me to look up to,” Hughes said. “There’s great leadership on the team this year, and it shows.”

Burggraff expects all his players to be leaders and “own their attitudes,” a concept that Hughes has already taken to heart. Even in his rookie season at Bethel, he hopes to be one of the team’s top five scorers and to earn the honor of being an All-American.

As the Royals prepare for their opening faceoff against St. John’s on Oct. 26, Hughes’ excitement is almost tangible.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “I get to play hockey for a school that has an unbelievable community that is filled 

Inside the crease with Mitch:

Favorite sport besides hockey: Football.

Other hobbies: I like to surf and play beach volleyball.

Major/minor: Business marketing.

Dream job:To go home and work for Grind Media, an action sports organization.

Favorite vacation: Hawaii. We went for my 16th birthday. 

Fondest memory of juniors: Having adventures with my roommates.

Favorite thing about Bethel: The girls! No, really, I love the godly perspective it takes on everything.

What pro player do you play like? Ryane Clowe.

Favorite DC food: Stir-fry. Or taco bar. Can't go wrong with that.

If you could meet anyone – dead or alive – who would it be and why? Brad Pitt. He's a legend. Or Julianne Hough. She's my wife. 

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