Garret Hughson selected the safer of two activities, the one in which 6-foot-2, 200-pound skaters bear down on him with sticks in their hands.
Hughson, the Spokane Chiefs’ backup goaltender, grew up in Foremost, Alberta, among a family of rodeo enthusiasts.
His father, Vane, was the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association’s novice saddle bronc champion in 1986. Younger brother Kale also competes as a saddle bronc rider.
“I did (rodeo) when I was younger,” Hughson said. “I used to rope and ride steers and bulls. I had to give it up because I didn’t want to get hurt during the hockey season.”
That turned out to be a wise decision. Hughson, 18, has more than a decade of experience in net, including two years in the Western Hockey League.
“When I was younger in Foremost, we had a 10-skater team,” Hughson said. “I went in the net and Coach didn’t want me to come out. I think I was about 7.”
Foremost, a town of 500-plus near Alberta’s border with Montana, lies about equidistant to Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Hughson grew up as a fan of both WHL teams.
During the last five years Hughson has attended Matt Wong’s King of the Crease Goaltending program in Medicine Hat.
His career began as a 14-year-old in 2009-10 with the Medicine Hat Hounds Bantam AAA team, and the following season with the Hounds Minor Midget team.
Medicine Hat’s WHL team listed Hughson in early November 2011, while he was in the midst of playing 18 games with the Tigers Midget AAA team.
“We didn’t have a very good team, but I was the first goalie in nine years to have a .900 save percentage, so it was pretty cool,” Hughson said.
Soon after, Medicine Hat dropped Hughson from its protected list and the Chiefs added him to theirs in December.
Hughson surprised himself last season by making the Chiefs roster as a backup to Eric Williams.
“I just tried to enjoy the experience, learn from it and get better,” Hughson said. “I didn’t know a whole lot, but I was hoping for the best.”
Hughson played 27 games last season, compiling an 11-6-0 record with two shutouts. He considers his 2-0 shutout of Kamloops on Feb. 23 as the highlight.
Hughson has been limited to 10 games this season. His record (3-4-1) has dipped, but his save percentage is nearly identical to last year.
Hughson (6-2, 190) is slightly bigger than Williams (6-0, 175).
“I think I’m a little bit more technical and he’s little bit more athletic,” Hughson said.
This is Williams’ final year in the league, meaning Hughson has a chance to become the No. 1 goalie next year.
“I’d like to be,” Hughson said. “It’s a great rink and great fans, so it’s a great place to play.”
Hughson and the Chiefs are returning from an 11-day holiday break, a time to relax and visit families. Vane Hughson is a rancher and farmer. Mother Tracey is a teacher’s aide at Foremost’s K-12 school and older sister Bailey is studying veterinary medicine at the University of Lethbridge.