By Ken Pagan
When the 2018-19 Hamilton Kilty B’s roster was put together late last summer, head coach Ken Peroff and GM Steve Hodson figured there was plenty of speed and talent among the young group of forwards, but there wasn’t a clear go-to guy.
The production from all four lines has remained fairly balanced all season, with six forwards now in double-digits in goal-scoring, but when looking at the stats sheet, one player began emerging in September and hasn’t looked back.
TJ Hughes, a second-year winger who turned 17 in November, will reach the 60-point plateau with his next point, and, with six games remaining in the season, he has a good shot at eclipsing the 64 points of Ben Hughes in 2015-16 to put up the highest single-season point total with the franchise since Zach Nieminen had 73 points with the 2013-14 Ancaster Avalanche.
“TJ has exceeded our expectations this year,” said Peroff, in his season season guiding the junior ‘B’ club that relocated to Hamilton from Ancaster after last season. “It looks like he’s found a new level of confidence this season and has been able to carry it forward for us all year.
“Our goal as a coaching staff with TJ is just helping him round out his game defensively so he can get to the offensive zone more and make the best use of his abilities.”
Hughes, a product of the 2016-17 Hamilton Huskies ‘AAA’ midget program, spent his rookie GOJHL season in 2017-18 split between Caledonia and Brantford, putting up 14 goals and 33 points in 46 games between the two clubs.
With the Kilty B’s this season, Hughes has been setting the scoring pace from the start, with 18 goals and 41 assists in 42 games, including a team-leading nine power-play goals and five game-winners.
He was named the Golden Horseshoe Conference Offensive Player of the Month in October, after collecting 19 points in 11 games. The production has remained consistent and he enters a three-games-in-three-days stretch starting Saturday with points in 20 of his last 23 games.
“As a team, we’ve been really pushing the last few games to start getting ready for playoffs,” said Hughes, a five-foot-11, 175-pound right-shooter. “I think I’ve been playing OK and working hard, but the whole team has been going well and we’re just looking for a big push toward the playoffs now.”
Hughes is now 14th in the 25-team GOJHL in scoring.
“At the start of the year, my goal was just to work as hard as I could every game and put up some points and I think I’m doing that,” he said. “If I can keep that going into playoffs, I think it can help this team out. If we all start going hard, I think we can create some buzz in the playoffs.”
Hughes has spent much of the season skating alongside OHL veteran Marino Moro (42 points in 33 games), while most recently spending time on a line with Chris Ishmael and Jordan Stock.
“Our whole team has a lot of speed and skill,” Hughes said. “You never know what can happen in terms of injuries and stuff, so it’s good to get a chance to play with different guys. We have a lot of skill and speed all around.”
The Kilty B’s (30-11-1) have won four straight games and 14 of their past 16, but face a stiff test at home on Saturday night against the first-place St. Catharines Falcons (34-4-2). The playoffs are only a few weeks away, so the intensity level is already ramping up.
Peroff is hopeful that Hughes carries his production into the post-season.
“We need him to remain a constant threat for us each night, and we’ll need him to be great on the power play,” Peroff said. “For our team to have success, TJ will need to be a big part of it.”