By Chris Christopher and Chris Lundy
BERKELEY – Sean Hughes starred on and off the ice for the Central Regional High School hockey team during his senior season.
He scored a team-high 13 goals and handed out 13 assists for 26 points at forward for the Golden Eagles. He was second on the club in points.
There’s more to Hughes than statistics, however, as he is also a solid citizen. Solid enough to win the Hobey Baker High School Character Award.
Established in 1981 by the Hobey Baker Award Committee, the award honors high school hockey players who exemplify the Hobey Baker ideal that character builds excellence.
“We believe that character makes the game better and it makes our players better,” the committee said in a press release. “Candidates for the award are selected by their coaches based on the following criteria: Coachability, strength of character, integrity, commitment, teamwork, community leadership and outstanding sportsmanship.”
Each year, a single player from each participating school is selected by either his or her coach to be honored by teammates and celebrated by the school and the community for outstanding individual performance on an off the ice.
“Because their presence makes the game better, we want them to be a part of Hobey Baker’s legend,” the committee said in the release. “Success in life, much like success in hockey, demands more than skill alone. It demands a positive attitude, an excellent work ethic and a will to succeed no matter the circumstances.”
Hughes received a personalized plaque at the most recent Central Regional Board of Education meeting Thursday.
“It is a great honor to win this award,” he said. “I would like to thank my parents (Ken and Ellen) for teaching me and raising me right. I would like to dedicate this award to my team as it was such a good team. My coaches (head coach Joe Pelliccio, assistants Jeff Mangold and Mark Pica and goalie coach Jay Jakubczak) had my back for the whole way and always pointed me in the right direction.”
Hughes deserved the award for “exemplary character and sportsmanship,” Pelliccio said at the meeting. “I knew from the time he was a freshman that he’d be the head captain when he was a senior.”
Pelliccio praised the rest of the Golden Eagles’ sportsmanship as well and how they conduct themselves at games here and away.
“There’s a long list right behind him,” Pelliccio said. “Sean won’t be the last kid from Central to win this.”
Baker was considered the first American ice hockey star by the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played ice hockey and football for Princeton University. He also competed for the St. Nicholas Hockey Club in New York City.
Baker was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975. A member of the United States Army Air Service, he lost his life at the age of 26 in 1918 while test piloting a service plane.
“It is an amazing honor to be awarded this award,” Hughes said. “This honor means so much to people and it shows what type of person you are.”
Hughes was named the Golden Eagles’ head captain by the team’s coaching staff soon after his junior season.
“Sean is a creation of his parents,” Pelliccio said. “The apple did not fall far from the tree. He thinks about how what he touches reflects on himself and his family. He has always done the right thing. He is a very caring kid. There is not a mean bone in his body.
“You could just see the person he was in the way he handled himself. He had all of the characteristics you need as a captain. He led all of the sophomores and the freshmen. All of the coaches saw it in him.”
Hughes enjoyed his leadership role.
“I loved every second of it,” he said. “The guys had my back when I was down. I had their backs no matter what.”
Pelliccio said Hughes often imparted his expertise to the team’s youngest players.
“He helped our young guys from Day One,” Pelliccio said. “He talked to all of our guys down to the weakest player. He made the weakest player feel he was no different than the best player on our team. There were players who came out for the team for the first time during the winter and he made them feel comfortable. He made them feel they were a part of our family. Central hockey is a family and Sean was an extension of our family.”
Hughes as a junior scored 31 points, putting home eight goals and handing out 23 assists. He finished his sophomore season with five goals and 17 assists for 22 points. He netted one goal and added one assist for two points as a freshman on the varsity.
“If you are a coach, you want a team of Seans,” Pelliccio said. “You want a kid like this to set the example for others. All of our guys followed suit in the way he carried himself. We had a team of Seans. He made it very easy for me to coach. He did what I told him to do. If there was something he wanted to suggest, he did it the right way. He requested different things and conducted himself like a man and a gentleman.
“He was all in with everything we did in Central Regional High School ice hockey.”
Hughes was one of the skinnier players at 6-foot-1 and 155 pounds.
“There is not a lot of weight to me,” he said. “I used my build to get in front of people and get them off the puck. I used it to my advantage for skating into the zone and I used my body to not let people push me off the puck. My arms are pretty long. They can block the sticks of the other players who try to take the puck from me.”
Pelliccio said Hughes brings impressive athletic ability to the ice.
“Sean is very fluid,” Pelliccio said. “He can pass. He can shoot. He can skate. He was widely respected throughout the Shore Conference. There is not a player on any other team who does not admire Sean. Some kids are a little more choppy in their skating than Sean. His shot is real quick and comes off his stick at times before you know it.
“He can take his shot while he is in full stride. That surprises goalies and that is how he scored most of his goals.”
Hughes also played center on defense.
“He did everything,” Pelliccio said. “You just can’t play on one side of the puck. He had to be in the slot and in the corner. At times, he was the leader of the breakout. There were countless things he had to do on defense.”
Pelliccio met Hughes for the first time when he was an eighth grader at the Central Regional Middle School. They met at the Winding River Skating Center in Toms River. Hughes competed in a high school spring league as an incoming freshman.
“We knew about him and we could see right away that he was a hockey player,” Pelliccio said. “It was refreshing to see how good he was in the eighth grade where some boys are just learning the game. We knew we had a hockey player.”
Hughes, who plans to compete at Stockton University, derives a large amount of pleasure playing ice hockey.
“I love it because of how much fun it is to go out there and skate with the puck,” he said. “Scoring a goal is like no other feeling I have ever had. Ice hockey is a hard challenge, a good environment to be in.”