Minnesota Duluth’s Gabbie Hughes tabbed as 2023 Hockey Humanitarian recipient

By Pete Souris

I congratulate the award’s other finalists for their varied and innovative community service initiatives. This means a lot more to me than just a personal recognition, it’s a victory for mental health awareness in general

Gabbie Hughes

Graduate senior center Gabbie Hughes (Lino Lakes, Minn.) of the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team has been named the 2023 recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which was announced Friday by the Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation at the Men’s Frozen Four in Tampa.

Hughes is the 28th honoree of the award and the third student-athlete from a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) school to be selected. She was recognized during the Friday night NCAA Men’s Frozen Four awards ceremonies, alongside the recipients of the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, the Mike Richter Award and the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Hughes, a 2022 Patty Kazmaier top-3 finalist, is one of three repeat finalists from last season, along with three-time finalists Jacob Adkins (Centennial, Col.) and Andrew Walker (Mason, Mich.) from UMass Boston, and two-time finalist Hannah Price (Pittsburgh, Pa.) from Rensselaer. Ryan Herpy (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) of Albertus Magnus and Will Rosen (Washington, D.C.) of Saint Anselm were the other two finalists.

“I congratulate the award’s other finalists for their varied and innovative community service initiatives. This means a lot more to me than just a personal recognition, it’s a victory for mental health awareness in general,” said Hughes. “I think having mental health — and specifically Sophie’s Squad — recognized by a national platform like HHAF is extremely important. It’s a great honor for me, but it’s a much bigger deal for Sophie’s Squad and mental health awareness; that’s the most important piece.”

The award is presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen – a student athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.

Hughes has made an impact statewide in Minnesota as an integral part of the Sophie’s Squad organization, a non-profit that she helped co-found to address mental health. Sophie’s Squad has raised more than $286,000 for mental health resources and advocacy in its less than two years existence. Sophie’s Squad has put on more than 43 events over that span, including its first-ever DI women’s and men’s double header Hockey Hits Back on Dec. 12, 2022. Hughes has participated in every single event that didn’t conflict with her hockey schedule. For those she was unable to attend, Hughes contributed recorded speeches and created social media postings. Hughes is also deeply involved as a speaker throughout Minnesota at schools and athletic events and often represents the charity in media interviews. She is passionate about speaking to teenagers and uses her own story of mental health struggles to encourage kids of all ages to talk about theirs, too. In doing so, Hughes has had a big role in changing the narrative about the importance of mental health awareness and treatment.

“Gabbie was part of and helped lead the initial brainstorming of Sophie’s Squad in the summer of 2021,” Sophie’s Squad Board Members said in a statement. “Gabbie’s commitment to and passion for Sophie’s Squad has been critical to our success.  In addition, Gabbie is the type of athlete we seek to help, and has been a shining example of how athletes can help other athletes. She has set the example for future generations by sharing her struggles and demonstrating that it’s OK to not be OK. Gabbie has helped us share the message of checking in on your own mental health and, perhaps more critically, the mental health of your teammates. We are honored and thrilled you have chosen Gabbie Hughes as your 2023 Hockey Humanitarian Award recipient.”

UMD head coach Maura Crowell stated: “Gabbie has cemented herself as a legend on a long list of Olympians and renowned women’s hockey players that have proudly worn the Minnesota Duluth Bulldog jersey. She has over 200 points in her storied on-ice career, but I believe this recognition of her work with Sophie’s Squad may be her highest honor. We are so grateful to Gabbie for bringing the critical importance of mental health awareness front and center for both our program and our community.” On Friday night, the Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation virtually presented Hughes with a check for $3,000 for Sophie’s Squad. (Hughes is currently rostered with the U.S. National Team in Brampton, Ontario for the 2023 IIHF World Championship).  The other four finalists each received $500 for their respective designated charities. These donations from the HHA Foundation are made possible through the generous support of the awards partners and donors.