SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Chiefs center Bear Hughes basically went from youth rec league to the Western Hockey League (WHL) in a year.
"To go from the level he came from to get to this level is remarkable, and he didn't even miss a step," Chiefs head coach Manny Viveiros said. "Even though he's considered a rookie, he's a veteran in our eyes."
The 18-year-old Post Falls product played junior hockey known as house league until the age of 16. In house league, players don't travel far for games, talent is limited, there aren't tryouts and everyone on the roster plays.
"The competition is obviously not as good," Hughes said. "I was just trying to get on the ice as much as possible with different teams, trying to get on the ice and I was able to improve a lot."
He also practiced with Chiefs legend Tyler Johnson, who currently plays in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hughes has known Johnson for half his life since Johnson is a Spokane native.
"Tyler skated out in Coeur d'Alene for five or six years," Hughes said. "So I'd skate out there with him and pass pucks to him over the summers."
Hughes was developing quickly, but his talent was flying under the radar. It wasn't surprising considering where he was playing. However, Johnson started spreading the news to the Chiefs about the gem in Post Falls.
"I played in the league and I saw the guys that came in, the kids that played, and truthfully I just thought he was better than a lot of the players I played with and against," Johnson said.
Before joining the Chiefs, Hughes played a season with the Spokane Braves, a junior league team in the KIJHL. He was fourth in the league in scoring and led all the rookies in that category with 41 goals in 46 games.
Two months into that season, the Chiefs claimed his player rights.
"This was always my dream, but I didn't know if it would actually happen," Hughes said on playing for the Chiefs. "Since it did, there's a lot of excitement for me."
He joined the Chiefs in January 2019 for some regular season and playoff action. It was like nothing changed for him. His coming out party was when he scored two goals in a game against the Tri-City Americans this past March. He had five total appearances in the 2018-2019 season.
This season, he hopes to have an even a bigger impact.
"Well I've been a pretty productive player my whole life so I'm hoping to get on the score sheet a little bit," Hughes said. "I just want to do what's best for the team, so I'll play whatever role I have to."
The Chiefs are happy to have him along.
"I'm very optimistic of how skilled and talented he is of a hockey player, and how intelligent (he is)," Viveiros said. "He's going to be a big part of our hockey team."
In no time, Hughes made a huge jump in level of competition. But with how talented he is, it seems like no jump at all.
Hughes has been injured to start the season, but is listed as day to day. He could return as early as this weekend. The Chiefs play Seattle on Oct. 4 at home, Tri-City on the road on October 5th and Everett at home on Oct. 6.