Skipjacks left wing Brent Hughes personifies the term "rink rat."
Hughes, a native of New Westminster, British Columbia, began skating as a 3-year-old and began playing hockey when he was 5. He has always been partial to rinks and is still one of the first on the ice and one of the last off at practice.
"I started skating at 3 because my mom was a skating coach," said Hughes, who was acquired during the offseason along with Craig Duncanson and Simon Wheeldon from the Winnipeg Jets organization for Tyler Larter, Bob Joyce and Kent Paynter. "I have two sisters who are figure skaters and I spent most of my time at the rink. My father has always been involved in junior hockey and he pushed me early. When I was 5, I was playing with 7- and 8-year-olds."
Hughes is the third-leading scorer for the division-leading Skipjacks with 16 goals and 20 assists in 31 games.
"My goal is to play for Washington," Hughes said. "Washington is a great team and a great organization. They couldn't have been nicer to me. I believe that I'm very close to being able to play for the Capitals right now. I know I still have to work on my skating a little, but otherwise I think I'm ready. It's a case of being in the right place at the right time and getting a break."
Hughes, 25, is no stranger to the National Hockey League. In two stints with Winnipeg, he played 39 games, scored four goals, had four assists and 115 minutes in penalties.
Hughes has been on a roll of late, scoring at least one point in eight of Baltimore's last nine games. He should be high on Capitals general manager David Poile's list of possible call-ups. Hughes skates on the team's most productive line, with Reggie Savage and Todd Hlushko.
"We started off the season together and then some things got shifted around, but we're back together now and we work very well together," Hughes said. "We know where each other will be and Hlushko and I like to go into the corners, take the body and make this happen. Reggie is very good around the cage. He has great hands, is very quick and has an accurate shot."
Skipjacks coach Rob Laird called Hughes "a very good offensive player and a fine forechecker. He likes to go in the corners and mix it up. He's very tough and makes things happen. He's a leader in the [locker] room and on the ice. He's always around the puck, has great hands and an excellent shot. He's a real asset to this team."
In addition to playing in the NHL with Winnipeg, Hughes spent most of the last four seasons with the AHL Moncton Hawks. His best year in Moncton was 1989 when he scored 34 goals and handed out 34 assists in 58 games. At every stop in his career, his penalty minutes have ranked among the highest in the league. He had 206 in 1988, 286 in 1989, 277 in 1990 and 144 last year.
"I guess the penalty minutes come from the kind of player I am," said Hughes. "I don't take any crap off anyone and I like to play the physical type game. When you like to take the body like I do, it seems to draw more penalties."
He is second on the Skipjacks in penalties with 137 minutes, behind right wing Richie Walcott, who has 168.
"Playing in Baltimore has been a very pleasant surprise," Hughes said. "The weather has been great and the people are nice. Up in the Maritimes the last four years we had snow, snow and more snow. When it snowed up there it snowed three feet deep. This weather down here makes you want to get out the golf clubs or a fishing pole."
Besides playing hockey, Hughes was a lacrosse player in British Columbia. "I played outdoor lacrosse until I was 16 then I concentrated on hockey," he said. "But I still play in the senior lacrosse leagues in the summertime. I play wing [attack] and I'm an average scorer but a good checker. The rest of the time in the summer I do some fishing, play a lot of golf and keep myself in shape for hockey."