ESCANABA - Matt Hughes has held leadership roles in a variety of capacities during his hockey career at Escanaba High School and Finlandia University. Now he is ready to take the next step.
Hughes was approved by the Escanaba School Board Monday night to be the Escanaba Eskymos' new head hockey coach.
"I'm very excited," Hughes said Tuesday morning. "I have a history with the program and put in some time as an assistant coach, and having the opportunity to be the head coach is an exciting thing.
"I'd like to thank Athletic Director Dave Wilson, the Blue Line Club and the school board for deciding to choose me as the head coach."
"He's the hockey guy," said Wilson Tuesday while driving back from the Escanaba Major Little League All-Star Tournament in Essexville.
"He's been there, he knows the kids and he has a good club coming back," Wilson added. "It will be a smooth transition. Matt has a good hockey mind and he knows the game well. He still plays it and plays in tournaments. He's still a very good hockey player."
The hiring of the 32-year-old Hughes is one that should provide an orderly transition. He is a former Eskymo hockey player, a 1999 EHS graduate and he has served as an assistant under the previous three Eskymo head coaches - Tim McCarthy, Charlie Elliot and Ward Johnsen. He is a 2004 graduate of Finlandia University where he was captain of the hockey team and an assistant coach for a season.
"I've learned a lot from each of the people I've coached under," Hughes said. "Being a captain in that leadership role definitely helps in the coaching aspect of it, and the experiences I've learned at the college and high school level will definitely contribute to that."
The opportunity to coach his alma mater was one that Hughes couldn't pass up, and he said his familiarity with the team should help in the transition.
"It's a great feeling, it's almost like coming full circle," Hughes said. "you play for the program for a couple years, leave the area and come back to your former high school program and give back the hockey knowledge attained throughout the years, and give back to the current players.
"I'm very familiar with the program and I contributed more each year I've been involved. I know the dynamics of the team right now and the direction we need to go.
It's also good for the kids. They know me and my expectations."
The Eskymo hockey program is in the midst of an unprecedented run, enjoying more success then at any other moment in program history. Hughes said the formula for continued success was in place and he would implement what worked under previous coaches while leaving his own mark on the program as well.
"I think the direction the program has been going the last 4-5 years I've been involved has been very good and successful, and I think we'll utilize things that we've been doing in the past," he said. "I'll probably tweak or implement some new ideas as well."
As far as the team goes, the Eskymos will see a very good, but small group of seniors depart while bringing back a talented young core.
"It's always good when you have a good core group coming back with experience," said Hughes. "They know my expectations. They know how I'm going to run practice and what's expected in a game. They know the drills.
"The seniors that graduated were definitely a key to our success the last few years and they will be missed, but we have a good group of kids to hopefully carry on that winning tradition in Escanaba."