McHugh having a blast playing roller hockey

Jeff Sherry

During winter quarter in 1993, former Gophers hockey player Justin McHugh was making impressions all around campus.
As a sophomore forward for Minnesota, McHugh became a fan favorite at Mariucci Arena with his strong work ethic and gritty, hustling style of play. In the Rarig Center, McHugh was turning heads in the elective course Theatre Arts 1301: Beginning Acting for Non-Theatre Majors.
It was in this class that McHugh made one of his most memorable performances ever: a lip sync to “I’ve had the time of my life” from “Dirty Dancing.” His partner assumed the role of Patrick Swayze’s character, Johnny Castle. McHugh was Baby.
For one morning, McHugh traded in his hockey garters for a low-cut, floral-print sun dress. His helmet was replaced by a curly, sandy-brown wig. The new look seemed like a dramatic change, but McHugh was using a familiar approach. He simply did what was necessary to get his A.
“That’s the attitude I have toward life,” McHugh said. “I don’t want to look back and say, ‘I could’ve done this,’ or ‘I could’ve worked harder.’ That’s what I do when I face anything. I try to work my hardest and do the best I can.”
Two weeks ago the Minnetonka native once again found himself exploring new attire, only this time it was footwear. McHugh has been taking a crash course in in-line skating to prepare for his playing debut with the Minnesota Arctic Blast.
The Arctic Blast opened its Roller Hockey International schedule last night with a 13-8 loss to the Long Island Jawz at Target Center. McHugh had one goal and two assists.
Playing for Minnesota in the RHI is quite a change for McHugh, who spent the past year playing professionally for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Lizard Kings, an independent minor league team in the East Coast Hockey League. He totaled 32 goals and 36 assists in 70 games.
The biggest difference for McHugh is the most obvious one: the skates. Unlike many hockey players, he has never used in-line skates during the offseason. He said his only in-line skating experience came a couple years ago when he was skating around the lakes with his girlfriend.
“I feel improvements every day, but it’s tough,” McHugh said. “It’s really different. You can’t stop at all. You can’t do a lot of things. But they said they’d be patient with me, and so far they have.”
Roller hockey’s rules might help McHugh get through the transition. The game is different from ice hockey in many ways, which helps increase scoring. There are no blue lines, which eliminates offsides. There are four skaters instead of five, leaving the rink less congested. The league also uses a sudden-death overtime shoot-out to end tie games.
In the franchise’s first-ever game two years ago, the Arctic Blast defeated Atlanta, 23-3. The high scoring is designed to increase excitement and attract younger fans, but it turns off some traditionalists.
“It’s entertaining and so on, but it’s maybe too much offense,” said Gophers hockey coach Doug Woog. “Each goal doesn’t quite have the impact you’d like it to have. Maybe they should shrink the net or something. But people like the action. I know the kids love it at (hockey) camp.”
Count McHugh among those who love the game. He said he’s still having a lot of fun playing, which is an important factor in his career decision-making process.
McHugh, who is a free agent, said he thinks the NHL could still be attainable, but he knows eventually he wants to be a dentist. He has been accepted to the University’s dental school and is currently weighing his options for next year.
It appears McHugh is leaning toward another year of hockey.
“The moment I’m not having any fun going to the rink anymore is when I’m going to hang it up — not when I realize I’m not going to make it to the NHL,” he said. “But I’m still having a blast right now. That’s why I’m out here playing this.”
McHugh’s still having the time of his life.