Hughes-apalooza: Canucks fall short, but significance of game remains

The Canucks erased a three-goal deficit in the third period, but Jesper Bratt scored the go-ahead goal with just over 33 seconds remaining, and the New Jersey Devils defeated Vancouver 6-5.

VANCOUVER — Despite the Hughes-apalooza, Tuesday was not the first time that brothers Quinn, Jack and Luke Hughes competed against each other in Vancouver.

In 2019, just before the National Hockey League entry draft that saw Jack chosen first-overall by the New Jersey Devils at Rogers Arena, the Hughes family from Michigan (via Toronto) had a race up the Grouse Grind, the 2,800-foot vertical hike to the top of Metro Vancouver.

In an upset, the 15-year-old Hughes won.

“Luke kicked both their asses,” their dad, Jim Hughes, told Sportsnet at the time.

But ever since, Jack Hughes has been at the top of the mountain whenever he plays the Vancouver Canucks and has pretty much kicked their butts.

Tuesday, when the Hughes boys became just the ninth set of three brothers to play in the same NHL game, Jack had a goal and two assists as the Devils won 6-5. 

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The Devils are 6-1 against the Canucks and Jack has 13 points since he joined New Jersey, which this season added to their lineup Luke, the rookie defenceman they selected fourth overall in 2021. Like Jack, Luke scored in his first game against Vancouver on a night when Quinn, with two assists, helped push the Canucks back from a three-goal deficit in the third period.

But for all the attention on the Hughes boys, it was Jesper Bratt’s uncontested conversion of the rebound from Nico Hischier’s shot with 33.2 seconds remaining that saved the game for the Devils and left the Canucks with nothing.

“First off, get that one to OT,” Quinn Hughes told reporters after the game. “I mean, it’s terrible to lose a game like that. Secondly, I think, them being up 4-1 in the first, we gave up eight shots but there were four Grade-A (chances). I don’t think we played terrible, we just gave up big mistakes.”

Asked about the significance of the brothers act, Quinn said: “I mean, it’s tough right now. I’m sure they’re appreciating it more than I am right now. Yeah, it’s very cool, I’m sure.”

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But he didn’t sound convinced after the Canucks lost for the sixth time in 10 games and continued to struggle for the consistency and defensive structure that allowed them to start the season 10-2-1.

Bratt was completely unchecked behind defencemen Filip Hronek and Ian Cole on the winning goal. And the Devil had opened scoring on a two-on-one 3:40 into the game when Hronek was caught and goalie Thatcher Demko fooled with a shot between his pads.

Eric Haula was alone in front of Demko on the second Jersey goal after Vancouver defenceman Tyler Myers inexplicably passed the puck to Jack Hughes in the corner.

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Jack then scored on a free pass to the net at 17:06 when Teddy Blueger didn’t track him from a faceoff.

Against a high-octane team like the Devils, albeit a struggling one playing in front of a goalie, Vitek Vanacek, who was spilling everything, defensive lapses are not survivable.

Too bad – because the Canucks third-period surge was admirable, as Brock Boeser, Sam Lafferty and Nils Hoglander scored from close-range to erase the 5-2 deficit. Boeser finished with three points, and Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller matched Quinn’s two.

But the Canucks just stopped playing after Hoglander, who worked his way from the fourth line to the top of the lineup, tied it 5-5 with 3:26 remaining.

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The ending shouldn’t really have surprised anyone. Jack Hughes nearly won it on a breakaway the shift before Bratt scored.

“The first period, obviously we give them four goals that shouldn’t go,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said. “There’s system plays that I’m a little disappointed in guys. You’re supposed to be in spots they weren’t in, and now you’re chasing the game. And then we make a great effort and then the last goal. . . maybe you could blame all five guys on the ice. I still don’t understand where guys were going on that play. That’s details. Details and details — that’s why we keep hammering to these guys.

“I’m not taking away they got the four goals, but we gave them four goals. You can’t have three guys in the corner on the first goal and leave the front of the net (open). That’s not our system. And we’ve been slacking a little bit on that. And it’s on us (coaches), it’s on my ass. I’ve got to get these guys to do it more often.”

In the end, the game will be remembered as much for the roller-coaster score and the Canucks’ untimely crash as for Hughes vs Hugheses. 

Still, the significance of the night and the family’s achievement wasn’t lost on anyone.

How do three kids from one family make it to the NHL and become stars?

“I don’t know man, it’s a lot of a lot of hard work,” Jack, 22, said after the morning skate. “Definitely a little bit of luck along the way. For one kid to get to the NHL, it’s really hard. So for three in one family to all be playing in one game tonight, that’s really special.”

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“It’s very rare for brothers to be in the NHL together,” Quinn, 24, conceded, “but then obviously to have success is another thing. So it’s pretty pretty cool for all three of us, and I’m sure my parents and family and friends as well.”

Jim and Ellen Hughes sat in club seats at Rogers Arena, wore neutral colours, and did not cheer demonstrably for their sons, although mom did smile when her baby, Luke, scored.

“We’re proud of the kids, of course,” Jim Hughes told CHEK TV Tuesday morning. “And they’re blessed. I mean, listen, it’s so hard to get to that league. And you know, the guys that get to that league, they’ve done it because of the hard work, the dedication, the commitment.

“You’ve just got to keep pushing yourself up the mountain. You’ve got to keep getting better. You’ve got to keep loving the sport. The kids have just, they kept loving the sport and it’s in their heart and in their soul.”

The boys’ passion for hockey developed in Toronto, where Jim worked in player-development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“The kids knew on Dec. 1 what rinks were open — the tennis courts, the municipalities in Toronto,” their father said. “They knew those rinks and they knew what day they were open. So the three of them would go out amongst all of their friends and they would play for hours for the love of the game. They’d play in the day, they’d play at night under the stars and moon. That’s where their skills, maybe their love for the game, grew. 

“But certainly the three of them pushed each other. Jack pushed Quinn and Quinn pushed Jack. Quinn’s a good role model to his brothers. And then obviously Luke was just observing and watching this along the (way).”

And then Jim Hughes told how after a family dinner out Monday in Vancouver, Quinn was talking to his younger brothers on the drive back to the Devils’ hotel “just giving little tips and. . . information.”

“That conversation took place last night at 10 o’clock,” Jim said. “There’s always learning that’s going on and I think, quite frankly, they teach each other.”

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