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UMD women's hockey: Hughes' impact on Bulldogs off the ice tops what she's done on it this season

Minnesota Duluth senior center Gabbie Hughes is not only leading the nation in points per game, she's also leading the way on mental health awareness.

Gabbie Hughes takes a shot from her knees against the Gophers
Minnesota Duluth senior center Gabbie Hughes shoots the puck on goal from her knees against Crystalyn Hengler (13) of Minnesota on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota Duluth senior captain Gabbie Hughes has been making a tremendous impact on the ice this season for the Bulldogs.

With 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points in 18 games, the Lino Lakes, Minnesota native enters this weekend’s WCHA series against Bemidji State at Amsoil Arena first in the nation in points per game (1.94), second in goals per game (0.78) and third in assists per game (1.17).

According to teammates and coaches, however, its her actions off the ice that are truly shaping her legacy as a Bulldog.

Elevated to assistant captain in early November, Hughes has become a vocal advocate for mental health issues through UMD’s Green Bandana Project and with Sophie’s Squad — an organization she and her family helped found following the death of a friend over the offseason.

Sophie’s Squad honors the memory of 14-year-old Sophie Wieland, who died by suicide over the summer. She was not only a player that Hughes and her father — Terry — coached, but a friend as well.

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The Hughes and Wieland family created Sophie’s Squad to help raise awareness of mental health issues facing athletes at the youth and college level. This season they’ve been putting on Hockey Hits Back events at high school games across the Twin Cities where fans are encouraged to wear teal.

Amsoil Arena will be the first rink at the college level to host a Sophie’s Squad event. The Bulldogs play the Beavers at 3:01 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with Saturday’s game being the Hockey Hits Back game that will help raise funds for Sophie’s Squad via chuck-a-puck, merchandise and a silent auction.

Hughes said she is excited for the event to come to Duluth, but more excited for the conversations Hockey Hits Back is starting.

“It’s bringing awareness to everything that Sophie’s Squad has brought to light,” Hughes said. “It is super important for younger kids and even older kids. Not a lot of people want to talk about it, but I think it's something that should be talked about and more common than people think.”

Hughes' willingness to talk about mental health and openness about the subject has made as big of an impact, if not more, this season than the points she’s put up.

Just ask senior wing and linemate Elizabeth Giguere, the 2020 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner who after four seasons at Clarkson, decided to transfer in the offseason to UMD to play her fifth-year of eligibility that had been granted by the NCAA for playing through the pandemic in 2020-21.

“It was actually a big thing for me coming from another place before, where that never really got talked about,” said Giguere, a native of Quebec City, Quebec, who is third nationally in points per game (1.83) and second in assists (1.28). “Mental health was not a thing that was talked about and I think everyone struggles with it. That you talk about it or not, everyone has some issues. So when I first got here and she talks so highly about how it was an open space, how you could reach out to these people and stuff and just within the team, it was such a big impact for me personally.”

Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Hughes has changed the way she addresses the team at the start of every season. That first open meeting with players includes a “who’s who” and “where-to-go” in terms of resources for student-athletes such as equipment and academics.

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It was Hughes who then spoke up to let teammates know about where teammates could go and who they could talk to about mental health issues, as well as its importance.

Crowell said it’s something she herself now plans to include every year.

“When you have a player like Gabbie — an older senior who is doing everything on the ice and well-known and all of that — really supporting mental health awareness and resources and talking about it, it just becomes a much more open, comfortable environment in our room,” Crowell said. “She is singlehandedly changing our culture in a positive way.”

Scouting the Beavers

Gabbie Hughes (17) battled Bemidji State junior Reece Hunt (29) for the puck
Minnesota Duluth senior center Gabbie Hughes (17) battles Bemidji State junior Reece Hunt (29) for the puck in the second period on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji.
Jillian Gandsey / File / Bemidji Pioneer

This weekend’s series marks the second of the season between the Bulldogs and Beavers, with UMD dominating the first meeting between the two schools Nov. 19-20 in Bemidji.

UMD swept the series, winning 9-0 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday, while going 3-for-4 on the power play. Giguere had five assists in the series — all on Friday — while Hughes, senior forward Anneke Linser and sophomore forward Clara Van Wieren all finished with a goal and four assists in the series.

The Bulldogs were coming off a three-week break that time. UMD hasn’t played a game since Jan. 1 this time around after last weekend’s WCHA series at St. Cloud State was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at UMD.

On Wednesday, Crowell said there was the potential for UMD to have its full roster available this weekend, however, the lineup remains in constant flux. Thankfully, they have an opponent everyone is familiar with in the Beavers.

“It actually doesn't feel like it was all that long ago,” Crowell said. “That's the beauty of our league. We have so few teams that we play, we know each other pretty well. So having a conference matchup replace the one that we thought we were having last week, it’s okay. We're ready. We know them, they know us, no secrets here.”

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Bemidji State last played on Dec. 17-18 when it beat and tied Minnesota State in Bemidji, losing the shootout following the draw. Senior forward Graysen Myers leads the team in scoring with five goals and nine assists in 20 games while senior forward Paige Beebe is second with six goals and seven assists.

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