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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Meghan Duggan Hangs Up Her Skates, But Her Advocacy Work Will Continue

Meghan Duggan’s hockey career peaked when she captained Team USA to its first gold medal in 20 years at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. That followed silver medals in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014, along with seven golds at IIHF Women’s World Championships, three NCAA championships with the University of Wisconsin, and the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award as the top collegiate player in women’s hockey.

But Duggan’s biggest impact on the game has come off the ice.

“The legacy that you leave on this program is so far greater than the accomplishments and the accolades,” said current U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield during a press conference on Tuesday to celebrate Duggan’s official retirement from the national team. “We’ve all heard of what you’ve done on the ice. It’s what you’ve done off the ice that that is so important.”

Duggan took the lead role in the U.S. team’s decision to threaten a boycott of the 2017 world championship, which was being held on home soil in Plymouth, Michigan. After more than a year of negotiations with USA Hockey, players felt they had hit a brick wall as they tried to gain better support for women and girls throughout the national program.

The players held fast for two weeks before a four-year agreement was reached. It included more financial support for national team players, travel and insurance provisions that match what the men’s national team receives, a pool of prize money and maternity support.

The women hit the ice in Plymouth later that week, and went on to capture their fourth-straight world championship gold medal — building momentum toward their Olympic triumph in South Korea one year later.

That gold-medal game, as it turns out, was Duggan’s last one in a U.S. jersey. Seven months later, she married Gillian Apps, a three-time gold medalist in women’s hockey for Canada. She gave birth to the couple’s first son, George, on February 29 of this year.

Though she had previously said she would be looking to return to hockey after her pregnancy, Duggan admitted the fact that her sport is at a virtual standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic may have sped up her retirement timeline.

“It’s hard to say ‘What if?’” she said. “But for me, I know that based on where I’m at in my life right now, what’s best for myself and my family and just that gut feeling that I have, this is the decision that I’ve made right now. And it feels wonderful.”

Though her on-ice days are over, her work within the game and for women’s sports will continue. She’s a member of USA Hockey’s board of directors and is on the board of trustees for the Women’s Sports Foundation. She’s also one of five female members of the NHL’s new Player Inclusion Committee, which was founded in September with a stated goal of developing “action-oriented solutions that positively impact the access, opportunity and experiences that underrepresented groups have in the game — and in the business — of hockey.”

“To be included in the in the Player Inclusion Committee with the NHL is something that I’m very excited about, and I’m honored to be a part of,” Duggan said. “Hockey has given me everything. It’s been my life.

“The relationships, the places, the experiences, the opportunities I’ve had, have all come in my life through hockey. I met my wife through hockey. We have our son through hockey. I’ve stood on podiums, and I’ve been challenged as a leader and been challenged as a person through hockey, and that’s incredibly important to me.

“Being a part of the Player Inclusion Committee and working towards allowing those types of opportunities for everyone regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of — the list goes on and on. That’s important to me. And that’s something that I am eager and excited to get working on with them.”

In some ways, Duggan has carried a torch that was passed to her by Cammi Granato, the Hall of Famer who captained the first gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team in Nagano in 1998. In an essay for ESPN, Duggan wrote that Granato helped galvanize her and her teammates in 2017.

“If you are going to go after something this monumental, you all have to be on the same page,” she wrote. “Some were scared. Some were hopeful. A lot of times we were frustrated. But we had to stick together, trust our guts and be confident that this was the right thing to do.”

“I think as I’ve gotten to know you personally, what impressed me the most was your natural and powerful leadership skills,” Granato said to Duggan during Tuesday’s press conference. “You really are the definition of a true leader. There’s this intangible ability that you carry, that you can have this ability to unify your team on and off the ice.

“I think you showed such immense courage, to make change in the sport. That impact will last forever, and that alone is something to be so proud of.”

“Not only have you left the women’s national team program in better shape and better hands, you’ve left this game in better shape and better hands,” Coyne Schofield said. “And I know you’ll continue to do so through all of your efforts.”

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