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(Photo: submitted)

Coach remembers young hockey player who always wore a smile

By Tara Clow Jan 6, 2024 | 2:25 PM

Five-year-old Tate Hughes could light up a room, with his smile.

The tragic news of his sudden death on January 2nd has spread quickly.

Neil McGillis knows Tate’s family well, “We’re really close friends with the Hughes family. My youngest boy is close friends with Tate’s brother Austin. I’ve coached Austin in hockey since he started and we became great friends, so we knew Tate from when he was born. We’d see him at the rink, in the stroller, for those dreaded 6 am practices. He was always part of the hockey family.”

McGilis says Tate wasn’t shy at all, and he was always smiling and had a cute little button nose.

“He was kind of our little team mascot, our little Hawk. He would come into our dressing room, and he would just walk in like he owned the place, which we loved, and he felt part of the team. He would go sit by any random kid on the team, whether it was his brother,  one of his brother’s close buddies or a new kid on the team that he was getting to know. He just wanted to be part of the group.”

McGillis remembered that when Tate came into the room, everyone would be yelling “Tater, Tater and he’d put on a big smile. He also recalls how the players would be racing over to hug him if he hadn’t already beaten them to it first.

“He always idolized his brother and his brother’s friends and the tight community that we are with hockey.”

(Photo: submitted)

This year was Tate’s first year playing hockey with the Moncton Minor Hockey Association. He wore #6 with U7 Blue Jays.


There has been an outpouring of support from the community for the Hughes family. A GoFundMe page has raised over $48,000 since it was created on Wednesday. The Moncton Minor Hockey Association and other hockey organizations across New Brunswick have also come together to show their love for Tate, through fundraising and moments of silence. The MMHA has also created stickers with Tate’s number on them, and players are wearing them on their helmets.

“It’s unbelievable. Tate’s parents, Craig and Talia, they’re just so overwhelmed with the support from the hockey community. We’ve got friends in hockey from Fredericton and all around the province, that are reaching out. Craig and Talia just can’t say enough about the support they received from everyone friends and and strangers,” McGillis adds.

Tate’s Grammy was also a huge member of the skating community.

“Diana Johnson worked with Mariposa skating in Moncton for around 30 years. She has a memorial at rink D at the Superior Propane Centre. They lost her unfortunately two years ago. I think the plan is to have a memorial and Tate’s memory there right with Diana’s, so he can be there with his Grammy. I know he is up in heaven right now with her and he’s in good hands,” McGillis told us.

This tragic death is being felt by many and can be difficult to understand especially for other young children.  We asked McGillis how the other players who knew Tate were dealing.

“I think that’s been the most remarkable thing to see. Adults, we’re all having a hard time with it, but the nine-year-olds on my team are a tight group. We had a practice the other night. So Mike Ivey and I, who coach together, just wanted to make it a fun environment. Austin, who is Tate’s brother, came into the dressing room, and it was just like any other practice. The boys rallied around him. They were they were all taping their sticks and writing Tate on their sticks. Everyone felt united and then we went out and we had a great fun practice. Everyone just wanted to see Austin smile. I think it was just what we all needed at this difficult time, just to see him happy and in his happy place.”

Listen to the full interview below:


According to Tate’s obituary, visitation will be held on Monday, January 8 from 5-8 pm at Ferguson’s Funeral Home on Mountain Road. It asks that you come and share a story or a laugh about Tater, and wear your hockey jerseys or coolest clothes. Donations in Tater’s memory may be made to the Open Ice For Kids Inc.

“We will all miss him dearly,” McGillis added.

(Photo: submitted)

(Photo: submitted)