By earning a spot last fall on the Lancers’ 23-man roster, Gage Hough made many dreams come true.
Sure, it was exciting for the 19-year-old Omaha native to slip on a Lancers sweater with “Hough” stitched between the shoulders. But what that accomplishment meant to others is what super-sizes Hough’s smile.
For his parents, Ann and Gary, it’s a chance to watch the youngest of their three sons play for the team he dreamed of skating for growing up. Brothers Jace and Van also harbored hopes of playing for the Lancers and now cheer for Gage at all of his home games.
Then there’s Grandpa Harold. Hough’s maternal grandfather, Harold Scholz, is 92. Until Nov. 23, Scholz attended those games with his wife, Betty.
That’s the day Betty died. For those few chances to play for his grandma — and the games since then with Grandpa Harold in the Ralston Arena crowd — Hough is grateful.
“He’s been with me the whole way. He makes it to every home game,” Hough said. “It makes it a pleasure for me to play for the Lancers. My brothers didn’t quite make it, and I’ve always said I wanted my grandparents to see me in a Lancers jersey.”
Hough has been playing hockey since he was 4, and he is the latest Omaha native — a list that includes Nick Oddo and Jed Ortmeyer — to suit up for the Lancers.
“It’s been a dream ever since I put on skates for the first time,” Hough said. “Those were easily the best times ever. Now to be back and playing for my hometown team, it’s the best thing that could ever happen.”
In 21 games, Hough has four goals, including the game-winner in a 5-4 victory Dec. 31 against Sioux City. The 6-foot, 200-pound forward can play one more season for the Lancers, and Hough said he is planning on returning next season.
Hough remembers attending Lancers games at Ak-Sar-Ben when he was little, and he grew up going to school in District 66. From Rockbrook Elementary and Westside Middle School, Hough went to Westside High School as a freshman before his hockey career led him to the Russell Stover program in Kansas City.
As a sophomore and junior Hough returned to Westside for the fourth quarter of school, but when he was called up to the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in December 2010, he finished his secondary education at Cedar Rapids Washington.
It was in Kansas City where Hough met current Lancer coach Mike Aikens, who was the head coach of that program before joining Omaha in his second stint as an assistant for the 2010-11 season.
When Hough got an invitation from Aikens to participate in the Lancers’ tryout camps last summer, Hough jumped at the chance.
“He’s one of my favorites of all my coaches,” Hough said. “If I didn’t go to Russell Stover, I wouldn’t be here today. This summer going into camp, I remembered playing for Aikens and I wanted to do it again. I worked all last season to get to this point.”
Aikens said Hough is an ideal teammate and a steadying presence in the locker room in addition to his on-ice skills.
“He’s a great kid, and the guys love him in the locker room,” Aikens said. “He always brings a lot of energy and has a smile at practice and games. He’s also scoring with some limited ice time.”
Aikens said Hough has embraced his role as a penalty-killing specialist, and his line’s performance has helped Omaha top the league with an 86.5 percent success rate, nearly one full percentage point better than second-place Cedar Rapids.
“He’s what you want as a role guy,” Aikens said. “Next year he may develop into a second- or third-line guy. He has that kind of potential.”
Hough’s role, Aikens said, is similar to the one New York Rangers coaches asked Ortmeyer to perform when he joined their team.
“Jed turned himself into what Gage has become for us,” Aikens said. “Jed became a fan favorite of the Rangers because of that. You need those kinds of guys who understand their roles and are willing to accept them.”
Hough said he appreciates the chance to prove he can skate with the best in the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league, especially after a rough campaign last season. He was released by Cedar Rapids and finished the season with the North American Hockey League’s Topeka Roadrunners.
“It was my worst year of hockey,” Hough said. “I didn’t produce, and I told him (Aikens) I was having a tough time. He gave me another chance, and I’m here now.”
That chance has Hough cracking jokes to teammates in the locker room and happily living at home again. Hough said he has taken a few college classes and works part time for the company his grandfather founded in 1972 — the Harold K. Scholz Co., a custom switchgear manufacturer.
“I’m getting years back at home now,” Hough said. “I’ve been missing my parents, and they’ve been missing me. I come in, do some drawings in the mornings, do whatever needs to be done. It just gives me a little extra spending cash to go eat with the guys.”
Contact the writer:
402-618-4113, email@example.com, twitter.com/stevebeideck