Thursday, July 30, 2015 - Submitted by Andrew McMurtry
Saturday night’s game between the Melbourne Mustangs and the Perth Thunder in Perth will have some extra spice. With the Thunder looking for the minor premiership or, at very least, cementing their place in the AIHL top four and the Mustangs back in contention in the race for the top four, the game will also see a milestone 11 years in the making – Mustangs defenceman Vinnie Hughes’ 200th AIHL game.
Hughes, who has also played 10 finals games with four Championships, said he was “privileged to have played as long as I have”. As part of the Melbourne Ice’s three-peat squad in 2010-2012, including captaining the team in 2011 and 2012, Hughes also tasted instant success when he moved to the Mustangs in 2014, saying “the highlight has always been raising my first Goodall Cup and then lifting the Cup again with another club”.
As one of the older statesmen in the AIHL at 33, Hughes and his brother Joey made the switch from the Melbourne Ice to the Melbourne Mustangs for the 2014 season after 10 years at the Ice. Hughes said there was not much of a learning curve to fit in with the new team, despite the Mustangs being one of the youngest squads in the AIHL.
“Getting used to the music in the change room was the hardest part,” Hughes said. “Fitting in team-wise took no effort and it's good to have a coach backing me.”
Having played alongside his brother for nine of his 11 AIHL seasons, Hughes said they were always going to try to play together if they could.
“There was no surprise; we are practically joined at the hip,” Hughes said. “We had a break in our 20's playing in different countries but it was inevitable; we knew we would play together back home.”
In the 2003 season, Hughes played in the Bayernliga, the German fourth tier with EV Dingolfing and ERC Lechbruck. Having also registered his 10 games for the senior men’s Australian team during that time, Hughes had a somewhat surprising attitude to Australian juniors playing overseas.
“I actually hope to see no-one go overseas,” Hughes said. “I'd like to see all training camps and development kept here in Australia. But, travelling is always a good experience for building values and growing up quickly. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't reach your dreams.”
With more than a decade of AIHL hockey under his belt, Hughes puts his longevity in the league down to several factors.
“My work ethic has always been a strong factor and surrounding myself with the right people,” Hughes said. “Having the complete support of my wife and daughter has also helped me play on.”
However, having won four Goodall Cups in his career, Hughes finds himself inspired by his teammates.
“My love of the game and being involved in the hockey community [keeps me motivated],” Hughes said. “I could say I'd like to win another Cup, but that would be too greedy. I play for my teammates who push me as much as I push them.”
Having played in the AIHL for over a decade, Hughes has been able to see many changes in the league, and looks forward to the future of the league.
“There are a lot more sponsors now and more focus on social media,” Hughes said. “We can always hope for better refereeing and I hope to see another rink open in Melbourne and another Melbourne team enter the competition.”
Hughes will step out for the 41st time for the Mustangs in his 200th regular season game on Saturday night in Perth.