Junior Forward Led Team in Goals, Also Active in Community Service
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Junior Aleca Hughes (Westwood, Mass.) has been elected captain of the Yale women's ice hockey team for the 2011-12 season. She will be formally introduced at the annual team banquet Friday night at The Course at Yale.
Hughes was selected by a team vote at Ingalls Rink last month. A five-foot-10 forward, she led the team in goals this past season and has also been a leader off the ice, participating in many community service initiatives. She leads Yale into its 35th varsity season.
"It was a huge honor to be elected by my teammates and to have the support of the coaching staff behind me," Hughes said. "I'm really excited about the opportunity to help lead our team and this program."
Hughes has been among Yale's top four in goals and points in each of her first three seasons, and she has 46 points (26 goals, 20 assists) for her career. She has not missed a game, and in 2009-10 she earned Yale's Bulldog Award for team spirit.
Hughes has increased her goal total each season she has been at Yale, scoring a career-high 10 this past year. She played some of her best hockey down the stretch, including three goals in the final four games as Yale vied for a spot in the ECAC Hockey playoffs. She played through an injury suffered in the second-to-last game, picking up an assist in the season finale despite having limited use of her right arm.
A graduate of the Hotchkiss School, Hughes also excels in the class room, posting a 3.50 cumulative GPA. She will earn her third ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team selection this season.
Hughes is part of a junior class that also includes forward Lauren Davis (Morrison, Colo.), defenseman Heather Grant (Toronto, Ont.) and goaltender Genny Ladiges (Almonte, Ont.). Those four must step up to replace Yale's graduating seniors, forward Bray Ketchum (Greenwich, Conn.), defenseman Samantha MacLean (Mississauga, Ont.), forward Lili Rudis (Chicago, Ill.) and goalie Jackee Snikeris (Downingtown, Pa.).
"The seniors this year were great role models, and we have a great class of leaders," Hughes said. "Heather is an outstanding defenseman. A really skilled player and a great person. She loves hockey, and I think she is a great role model in that sense. Genny is an extraordinary leader. Her energy is going to be tapped this coming season. She's so talented, so good, but she's been in Snik's shadow all these years. To be able to sit patiently and wait, I can't imagine how hard that is. I know that she's going to rise to the occasion. That's an unspoken source of strength that we're going to be able to lean on. Lauren is a great kid who has improved so much and works so hard. She's always working the system, doing the right things. Hopefully the four of us can set a good example."
Hughes leads the Bulldogs into their second year under head coach Joakim Flygh, who took over at Yale after stints as an assistant at Harvard, Minnesota-Duluth and New England College.
"The coaching staff is thrilled that Aleca will captain the Yale Hockey team during the 2011-12 season," said Flygh. "Her commitment to the team, the community and the University is unparalleled. She has been fortunate to have been around some wonderful leaders at Yale and at Hotchkiss. We believe that these experiences, along with her outstanding natural leadership abilities, will make her a terrific captain."
Hughes has recently been recognized for her efforts off the ice, as she was one of eight finalists nationwide for the BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award. She is the fifth Yale women's ice hockey player to be named a finalist for the award, which seeks to recognize male or female college hockey players at the Division I or Division III levels who give back to their communities in the true humanitarian spirit.
Hughes' efforts to help save lives have been inspired by the battle with cancer waged by her teammate Mandi Schwartz (1988-2011). She has focused on raising awareness of the need for marrow donors and umbilical cord blood donors for patients with life-threatening illnesses, along with raising funds.
Inspired by Mandi, Hughes and her Yale women's ice hockey teammates have already been a part of three record-setting Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drives at Yale that have added nearly 2,500 potential donors to the Be The Match Registry. To date, at least six genetic matches for patients in need of life-saving transplants have been identified through those annual drives.
Once it became clear last summer that Mandi was in urgent need of a stem cell transplant, Hughes became part of a world-wide effort to raise awareness of the need for marrow donors and umbilical cord blood donors. Mandi's story was featured on ESPN, ABC News and CBS News, among others. Hughes distributed literature to OB-GYNs at various places she traveled to throughout the summer, educating expectant parents about the need for umbilical cord blood donors. She also contacted media outlets to get stories printed that raised awareness of the need. She then took her involvement one step further by working with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to start a marrow donor testing drive and a fund raiser for Mandi based around the Chowder Cup hockey tournament in Massachusetts.
Once school was back in session in the fall, Hughes followed up her work from the summer by organizing the Yale women's ice hockey team's "White Out for Mandi" fund raiser in November, which attracted a record crowd of more than 1,000 people to Ingalls Rink for Yale's game vs. RPI. Hughes got special t-shirts designed, printed and sold for the event; promoted the event through the media, including NHL.com; and also organized a silent auction that included items from teams (New York Rangers, Boston Red Sox) and players (Bobby Orr, Mark Recchi, Patrick Kane). The two fund raisers that Hughes organized raised more than $22,000 for Mandi and her family.
Mandi's struggle, which ended when she passed away Apr. 3, has had a major impact on Hughes and her Yale teammates. The team recently attended Mandi's funeral in Wilcox, Sask., and also hosted a memorial service at Yale where Hughes performed a reading. The next day, Hughes and her teammates led the 2011 Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive at Yale and added nearly 900 people to the Be The Match Registry in an effort to help save lives.
While Hughes could never have foreseen the turns her Yale experience would take, she clearly has drawn lessons from what she has been a part of, and the people she has met.
"The struggles our team has faced and the accomplishments our team has achieved are different than anything I would have expected," Hughes said. "Our journey hasn't been your typical one. It has tested us in different ways, but we have a very very cohesive, strong, courageous group of kids and I've learned so much from my teammates and through my experiences here so far."
Hughes also helps coach a Yale Youth Hockey team and participates in numerous other community service initiatives. This past season she and her Yale teammates "adopted" a nine-year old girl, Giana, who is recovering from surgery for a brain tumor. Hughes regularly takes the time out of her busy schedule to visit Giana, who recently returned to school as a fourth grader. Giana is the first adoptee in the recently created program, known as "Bulldog Buddies", that pairs Yale athletic teams with young brain tumor patients.
Hughes has been involved in many team-organized events such as Youth Days, Skate with the Players and ECAC Hockey's 2008-09 "Pink at the Rink" fund raiser for cancer research. She is her team's representative for Yale Athletics' Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Program, coordinating events such as a holiday gift-giving initiative for underprivileged families in the New Haven area. She is also a member of Athletes in Action, a group of Christian student-athletes that meets weekly and performs various community service initiatives.
Recognizing her leadership potential, Hughes has also taken part in Yale Athletics' Kiphuth Leadership Academy, a program that develops Yale student-athletes to be world-class leaders in athletics, academics and life.
Hughes has also been a part of the USA Hockey program. She attended Open Olympic Tryouts in the summer of 2009.
At Hotchkiss, Hughes was team captain and All-New England. She also played for the Connecticut Stars, earning two bronze medals and one silver at Nationals.
Hughes comes from a family of hockey players. Her father, George, played for Harvard and is seventh on the Crimson's career scoring list. Her uncle, Jack, played for Harvard and the NHL's Colorado Rockies. Her mother, Allison, played for BU. Her older brother, George, plays at St. Lawrence, and her younger brother, Gunnar, has committed to play at St. Lawrence.
An American studies major, Hughes in considering going to law school after graduation.
Yale Women's Ice Hockey Captains from Massachusetts
1981-82 Laurie Dalheim (Lee, Mass.)
1997-98 Sarah Russell (Belmont, Mass.)
2006-07 Kristin Savard (Framingham, Mass.)
2011-12 Aleca Hughes (Westwood, Mass.)
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity