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UMD women's hockey: Hughes, Bulldogs look to make themselves at home at Ridder Arena

Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota meet in WCHA play on Friday and Saturday at Ridder Arena, where Bulldogs center Gabbie Hughes has had plenty of offensive success during her college career.

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After COVID-19 protocols canceled their lone scheduled series in Minneapolis last season, Minnesota Duluth will take on Minnesota at Ridder Arena for the first time in over 22 months when the two rivals meet at 7:01 p.m. Friday and 3:31 p.m. Saturday.

For players like senior center Gabbie Hughes — a Lino Lakes native who attended Centennial High School — the home of the Golden Gophers feels like a second home for Bulldogs who grew up in the Twin Cities.

“A lot of players that come from Minnesota grew up playing at that rink a lot,” Hughes said. “We had a lot of games and practices there. Just growing up around that area, it’s the closest D-1 school to go to watch games. Being in that rink so much when we were younger, then going back there to play them and play in the rink that you always watched in, is just super special and puts a little fire in us.”

Hughes, one of 13 Bulldogs who grew up in the Twin Cities metro area, has 27 points in 14 games this year to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. She is two points shy of moving into 14th on UMD’s all-time scoring list and brings a career-long nine-game point streak to Minneapolis this weekend via five goals and 15 assists.

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In 14 career games against the Gophers, Hughes has nine goals and eight assists after posting two goals and an assist earlier this season in a 3-1 loss and 5-4 overtime win against Minnesota at Amsoil Arena.

Of those 17 career points against Minnesota, eight have come in six games against the Gophers at Ridder Arena. She’s scored a goal in five of the six games and failed to register a point just once — a 5-0 loss her sophomore year.

“I get fired up to play against them in the Cities,” said Hughes, who is 2-4 against Minnesota at Ridder in her career. “My family is always there. Getting to play in front of people that don't normally get to watch me play as is always fun.”

Looking for depth

Minnesota Duluth forward Gabbie Hughes (17) shoots the puck on goal against Ohio State goaltender Amanda Thiele (30) on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Bulldogs’ top line of Hughes and fifth-year senior wingers Elizabeth Giguere and Anna Klein is one of the most dangerous lines offensively in the country.

Hughes’ 1.98 points per game average leads the country and she’s tied atop the country in assists per game (1.29) with Giguere. They have 18 each to co-lead UMD. Klein, the Edina native with a team-high 11 goals, is second in the country in goals per game at 0.79.

As great as those numbers are, Hughes said it’s a lot more fun out on the ice when all four of the Bulldogs’ lines are producing. It builds confidence, relieves the pressure to score and allows UMD to reach its full potential.

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“When everyone's rolling, it's just so much more fun. You feel so much more free,” Hughes said. “You don't feel that much pressure on your shoulders when everyone else is going. You can count on them when they go on the ice that they're going to get it done too.”

That was the case last Friday in the 5-2 win over Ohio State, when third-line winger Naomi Rogge got UMD on the board 1:45 in and then second-line wing Anneke Linser scored eight minutes into the game. Klein and Giguere then got the next three goals.

Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell called Friday’s result against the second-ranked Buckeyes a “collective win” and something UMD needs to replicate on Friday and Saturday against Minnesota this weekend.

“Everybody was going that night and it didn't matter who hit the ice,” Crowell said. “They were helping produce. We played great D. I thought (Emma Soderberg) was really, really good in net. Across the board, we were ready to play and you can see what we're capable of when everybody's going.”

Scouting the Gophers

Naomi Rogge (9) of Minnesota Duluth fights for the puck against Lauren Bench (35) of Minnesota during the first period on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Opening the season with WCHA series against Ohio State and UMD, the Gophers got off to a rough 1-3 start. Since splitting in Duluth Oct. 8-9, Minnesota is 12-1-1 with a road sweep at Colgate — the Raiders later ended their 11-game win streak at the Smashville Showcase — and five-point weekend against previously unbeaten Wisconsin in Madison.

The Gophers scored a 3-2 win last Friday and a shootout win following a 2-2 OT tie last Saturday.

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Crowell said she sees a Gophers team playing with a lot of confidence right now.

"They started the season with two big losses at home and then they played us the very next weekend. They had a gauntlet to start their season,” Crowell said. “Look across the country. You see certain teams play really light competition at the beginning of the year. They end up going 6-0 and then they roll into conference play. You see that a lot and I think confidence is such an important piece. Now Minnesota has put together a great first half — I would say — overall. They're feeling really good about their game.”

READ MORE: Gophers guard against letdown as Bulldogs come closer to home for holidays

Crowell said Gophers senior Taylor Heise is playing her best season yet. Fifth in nation in points per game, Heise leads the Gophers offense with 14 goals and 17 assists in 18 games.

Minnesota has played four different goaltenders this season, with three different goalies getting at least five starts. Redshirt fifth-year senior goaltender Lauren Bench, in her second season at Minnesota after four at Bemidji State, has started eight games and played 10. She has a .928 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average after starting both games at Wisconsin a week ago.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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