“It’s always been me versus Quinn, making each other better. Over the years, it’s been unbelievable.”
— Jack Hughes, talking about his older brother, Quinn
NEW YORK — They have been unbelievable, these Hughes boys.
The small brothers were big enough growing up — the largest chunk of their childhoods were in Toronto, but they lived wherever their dad, Jim, was coaching — that they were selected in consecutive years at or near the top of the National Hockey League draft.
Born 19 months apart, Quinn, who turned 20 on Monday, and Jack, 18, are NHL rookies on opposite coasts. Quinn is a defenceman with the Vancouver Canucks, Jack a forward with the New Jersey Devils. Potential superstars out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Quinn and Jack have already made the Hugheses the first family of American hockey.
They could be the first siblings in NHL history to be finalists for the Calder Trophy in the same season. And a third brother, Luke, could join them in the league in a few years.
Quinn and Jack have always had each other to beat, and their fierce competition in everything drove them to this: On Saturday they face each other in the NHL for the first time when the Canucks visit the Devils in a matinee game.
“That was our dream and every kid believes in their dream,” Quinn said. “Now that it’s here, it’s not shocking or surprising. But it’s like, ‘Wow, we’re really here.’ Not only for me and Jack but for our whole family, it’s a pretty cool moment.”
Jack figures there will be 75 members of Team Hughes at the Prudential Center, friends and family from Boston and New York and Michigan, where Jim and his wife Ellen settled a few years ago to finish raising their kids after Jim left the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and his job in player development.
“It’s a great time for me and Quinn, obviously,” Jack told reporters on Friday. “But it’s also a great time for our family and friends to be proud of us and see where we’ve gotten.”
Quinn said: “A lot of parents don’t get to experience what they’re going to experience tomorrow. I think it will probably be a little bit stressful but enjoyable.
“I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time, I don’t really like playing Jack. He’s a really good player, for one. And two, I don’t know, it’s just a weird dynamic. But it will be fun and we’ll have family there.”
Family matchups are rare in the NHL, and what makes Hughes versus Hughes even more special, besides the ages and pedigree of the dynamic brothers, is that Quinn should often be defending against Jack.
Jack’s deflection-assist off teammate Miles Wood’s butt during the Devils’ 5-2 win Thursday against the New York Rangers was the 2019 first-overall pick’s first NHL point. It was his seventh game.
Quinn, the 2018 seventh-overall pick who had another strong performance in the Canucks’ 4-3 shootout win Thursday in St. Louis, has three points in six games this month and leads all NHL rookies with an average ice time of 20:28.
The only time they played each other in an official hockey game: Jack’s U.S. under-18 team beat Quinn’s University of Michigan Wolverines 6-3 one year ago.
Jack said Friday that if he went one-on-one against Quinn 10 times, he’d get past his brother on six of the rushes.
Quinn countered: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
Quinn said that during table tennis matches in the family basement, the brothers were so competitive they eventually had to video-tape pre-game wagers to ensure rules were followed and losing bets paid.
What else did they compete in?
“Literally anything,” Quinn said.
“We’re going one-on-one in the summer every day,” Jack said of their hockey training, usually done under dad’s watch. “(Quinn’s) the guy I compete against in the summer. He’s a really good guy if you want to get better. You work on your game. We’ve been good for each other in how we can take things from each other’s game… and also push each other, make each other better.”
Quinn explained: “I feel like he was never competing against his own age — he was always competing against a kid two years older than him. He was able to keep up and I feel that made him better. And him pushing me made me better.”
Amid all that ego and competitiveness, there is also an unmistakable fondness between the boys. Each raves about how good the other is and will be. They’re each only five-foot-10, but you wouldn’t want to take them on if they were fighting for each other.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Quinn said. “I hang out with him all the time and always watch him play. I learn what I can.”
Asked if one parent will wear a Canucks jersey and other a Devils sweater on Saturday, Quinn said he hoped they’d wear neither and just “come in disguise.”
Jack remembers how the U.S.-Michigan game affected his mom and dad.
“I think our parents were a little nervous, hoping we weren’t on the ice together,” he said. “But it was a lot of fun. Every time I looked over (at Quinn), I was laughing. I’m sure it will be a lot different now.”
• Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom rejoined the Canucks for their optional practice on Friday after spending most of the week home in Sweden on a family leave. Backup Thatcher Demko, who played exceptionally well in two games while Markstrom was away, is expected to start Saturday against the Devils. Markstrom could play Sunday against the New York Rangers.