Jack Finley and Bear Hughes both got to celebrate the same experience on Wednesday when they were selected in the 2020 NHL draft.
They are the 75th and 76th Chiefs players to be drafted by NHL teams in the franchise’s 35-year history. This is the sixth consecutive year and 30th year overall that a Chiefs player has been taken in the draft.
But the two forwards’ paths up to their draft day couldn’t be much more different.
Finley is the son of a 15-year pro and the prototype of the big-bodied center. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Finley went 57th overall – two spots later than Jeff Finley, his father, went in the 1985 draft – to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Four years ago, Finley played at the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in his hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia. One of his teammates on that team, Jake Neighbours, was taken 26th overall in the first round of the draft on Tuesday.
Four years ago, Hughes was playing for a nameless, nomadic team of Idaho teenagers who didn’t even practice together.
They simply tried to play the best teams in the region they could find, Hughes said.
“We just met up on the weekends and played,” Hughes said. “We never really had practices. We just called ourselves ‘North Idaho.’ ”
Even two years ago, Hughes was barely on scouts’ radars, including those in the Western Hockey League. When the Chiefs first took notice of him as a Junior B rookie with the Spokane Braves in the fall of 2018, they moved quickly to list him.
On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals selected him in the fifth round of the draft, the 148th overall pick.
Former Chiefs player and Spokane native Tyler Johnson tweeted his congratulations to Hughes: “Congrats Bear! Never seen anyone work harder. Much deserved!”
Hughes first got to know Johnson – who won a Stanley Cup last week with the Lightning – nearly 10 years ago, when he would share the ice with Johnson during summer workouts.
He continued to skate with Johnson as well as other local pros such as Kailer Yamamoto.
“I learned a lot from them,” Hughes said. “You just gotta take advantage of all your opportunities.”
Despite his unconventional hockey background, Hughes was still skating. That North Idaho team, he said, had some talented guys on it from Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene.
“For me, I never played the highest level of hockey, but I was on the ice all the time, trying to get better,” he said.
Hughes, whose given name is Cassius, is the sixth of 10 children in his family, which he said is partly why he stayed close to home during his bantam, midget and junior years.
“For us, there’s more important things than hockey,” Hughes said. “It’s more important for our family to be together.”
If Hughes plays in the NHL someday, he would be the third Idaho-born player to do so. Guyle Fielder from Potlatch played in nine games between 1951 and 1958, and Pat Shea – also from Potlatch – played 10 games for the Chicago Black Hawks in 1932, according to hockey-reference.com.
“It’s a state that’s definitely not known for its hockey,” Hughes said. “It’d be pretty cool to come from this background and make it all the way there.”
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