Some 12 hours after her Centennial hockey team clinched its first state tournament appearance in a decade, Gabbie Hughes got a reminder of the accomplishment from teammate Hannah Backman.
At the team's practice Saturday morning, Backman's section championship medal, attached to a blue ribbon, hung around her neck for all Cougars to see. The symbol of excellence owed a lot to Hughes, who helped them win it with all-encompassing commitment she brought to the ice.
Oh, there were goals and assists. Always have been. Hughes is an offensive dynamo who surpassed 300 career points. But it was her demeanor when she fell short — making a point to own her miscues — that proved contagious and elevated Centennial into the state tournament.
"She'll admit to mistakes, apologize and do everything she can to make up for it," Cougars coach Kristi King said.
Humility and great ability meant a special season for team and player. Centennial earned a 23-3-1 record and the No. 2 seed in this week's Class 2A state tournament field. Hughes, meanwhile, tallied 40 goals plus career highs in assists (34) and points (74), a performance that distinguished her as the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
"She's got that 'wow' factor," King said. "Every goal she scores is beautiful. You give her an inch and she's going to take it and make you regret it."
Always known for flash and a penchant for scoring, Hughes put time into maturing her overall game.
"Over the summer, I worked with my dad at Skate to Excellence, and every practice he would say, 'You've got to move without the puck, support and get the puck back,' " Hughes said.
Once the season began, Hughes went back to work with linemate Anneke Linser, who also is a future Minnesota Duluth teammate. Linser and Hughes, nicknamed "Filthy and McNasty" by Centennial goalie coach David Cole, combined for 63 goals, 74 assists and a Class 2A-best 137 points. Both are finalists for Ms. Hockey.
"She helped make me into the player I am today," Hughes said. "We always go against each other in the one-on-one battles in practice. We get a little mad sometimes, but it makes us better because neither one of us wants to give up."
Linser plays right wing. Hughes is her center. The dynamic duo, plus left wing Emily Nadeau, wear matching practice jerseys, which inspired the moniker "Green Magic" from Cole.
"Gabs has continued to work hard and she really sets up her teammates effectively," Linser said. "We know each other like the back of our hands."
King tried splitting them up at a recent practice, a move Hughes said tanked the flow of the entire team. They were reunited the next day.
"I understand the rationale for putting them on different lines, but I see them every day and they are better together," King said.
During games, King has heard the more vocal Hughes challenge Linser with "You've got more in the tank. I know you do." And King has seen Linser tap her stick on the shin pads of a frustrated Hughes as if to encourage, "Next time."
A mature team with 12 driven seniors has learned to model the best players.
"Being vulnerable brings a team together," Hughes said. "Last year there was more blaming. This year, people have stepped up and come together."