Duncan Hughes’ hockey future hung in the balance this spring– until his phone unexpectedly rang.
The 20-year-old goalie got a call from the head coach at Salve Regina University, a small liberal arts school in Newport, Rhode Island, about the potential of him suiting up next season.
After two seasons between the pipes for the Olds Grizzlys in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Hughes said interest in his services were sparse for his final junior year. His numbers, at first glance last season seem to tell that story – a 7-25-3 win-loss record, 4.61 goals against average and 0.878 save percentage, don’t exactly scream next-level calibre and didn’t have teams lining up at his door.
So, after former Grizzlys’ teammate Vincenzo Renda endorsed the Seahawks hockey program, Hughes, from Rocky Mountain House, decided he would haul his gear across the continent to play NCAA Division III Hockey next season.
“One phone call turned into a few. The whole process took three to four weeks. It was a pleasure to be a part of and the way they treated me was great,” he said.
“Obviously a lot of discussion with my family, the whole time we were super excited. Especially with the academics they could offer. You can go play hockey somewhere, but you have to make sure you have some education because hockey can only last so long… I just thought it was a really great fit for me.”
He said after looking into it, the school has a distinguished nursing program as well as an accelerated master’s program, that will help move towards his dream of one day becoming a pediatrician. Inspired by his time in Olds, working with young kids in schools, he plans to combine that passion with his love of biology on the road to maybe becoming a pediatric surgeon or a nurse.
“I want to go into the medical field and become a doctor but I’m just not sure what. I was thinking about being a chiropractor, an optometrist or a pediatrician or I even had aspirations of becoming a neurosurgeon,” he said.
“When I played in Olds I did a lot of volunteer work at the middle school and I found out I have a passion for being around kids and how much joy they bring to others. Just the gratification making a difference with them, it just makes your life that much better, seeing them smile…
“if you can make a difference if they’re sick or something, that would mean the world to me.”
Congrats Duncan! Definitely a guy that will block anything that is shot or thrown at him pic.twitter.com/2ZEb3rZv0R
— Innisfail Merchants (@MerchantsAAA) May 6, 2020
Not only did he find a window into his future during those days in Olds, but he also learned lessons that take most of us a lifetime to learn.
The netminder will be the first one to admit what story his numbers from his junior hockey seem to tell.
An 11-49-4 career AJHL record, along with 4.84 career GAA and 0.875 SV%, doesn’t necessarily open a lot of doors in hockey. As the losses piled up, it was those visits to schools, where the kids idolized him regardless of the wins or losses, that formed into valuable lessons.
While those times were tough, Hughes, seemingly optimistic by nature, sees the positive in all of that.
“The biggest take away is life lessons. What I learned about myself and being a good citizen. You think that things are always going to go your way and life is going to be sunshine and rainbows,” said the former Red Deer Optimist Chiefs netminder.
“In reality, it throws curveballs at you and it can be tough. You have to dig deep inside, especially when you feel like you hit rock bottom. You just have to find the motivation that tomorrow, the sun will come out.”
The youngest of three kids, who was inspired to play goalie by his big brother, Hughes recognizes he is putting a lot of stock into the hockey dream by moving across the continent.
Still, he hopes he can find a winning program, but also a future.
Because, for the kid who remembers seeing his big brother make a glove save– who remembers the roar of the crowd at that moment, he can’t stop chasing that dream right now.
“There’s still an opportunity for me to come out with a degree and if I want, maybe have an opportunity to go pro. For me, the dream is still alive,” he said.
“I can still get a good education out of it and hopefully play really well and maybe talk to some pro teams. If not I can come back and say, I’ve got my degree and get a really good job.”