Meghan Duggan was 11 years old when she knew she wanted to be an Olympian.
Watching the first installment of women’s ice hockey in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, she knew that’s where she wanted to be. Someday, it would be her up on the TV, she imagined. Twelve years later, that’s exactly where she ended up.
Not just once, but three times — twice as a silver medalist, once winning the gold.
On the latest session of New England Hockey Journal’s The Rink Shrinks podcast, Duggan, who played in eight IIHF World Championships along with a trio of Olympics, joins co-hosts Brian Yandle and Mike Mottau to chat about her early playing days, as well as her eventual stops and successes on the international stage.
“That pretty much changed my life,” Duggan said of the 1998 Winter Games. “I met a woman that played on that team. After they came back — the U.S. team won the gold medal — and when they came back, they were sharing it with all their hometowns, and I had an opportunity to meet a woman on that team and it really just changed my life.
“That was 23 years ago now, which seems crazy but really after meeting her back in 1998, I started to build my life around that dream: I want to captain Team USA, I want to go to the Olympics, I want to win a gold medal.”
Born in 1987, Duggan got her start playing the game in her hometown of Danvers, Mass., where, at the time, women’s hockey programs were hard to come by. In fact, that there weren’t any all-girls hockey programs in the town at all.
After first learning to skate at the age of 3, influenced by her family and friends, specifically her older brother Bryan, Duggan began playing alongside the boys. For her, that was no problem. In fact, she had a lot of fun, and success, doing so.
“I was welcomed with open arms onto all the guys teams I was on,” Duggan told the Shrinks. “You hear of some girls that have horror stories growing up playing with guys, but I literally had the best experience and some of those guys are still my best friends to this day, so kudos to them and their parents, and to everyone for really welcoming me as part of the group back then when it was new and different.
“Now, it’s like, I envy a lot of the girls that get to play on all-girls teams or have those opportunities, but I wouldn’t change mine for anything. I wanted to be Ray Bourque. I wanted to play in the NHL. That was all that I had seen at that point.”
After jumping headfirst into the youth hockey circuit in Danvers, she continued playing with the boys until she moved away to Cushing Academy at the start of high school to join the all-girls team under coach Paul Kennedy in the NEPSAC.
As for today’s girls youth doing the same, Duggan said it’s up to them to make that decision of whether or not they want to stick with the girls or join the boys.
“Obviously, I’m very in support of the growing girls game,” Duggan said. “To see how many young girls have registered — it’s just skyrocketed in the last 20 years — and it’s so exciting for me to see the growth of the sport. There are some girls that, you know, they want to play hockey on a team full of girls because that’s awesome and they want to hang out with their friends and do all that, and that’s fantastic. There are some girls that want to play with the boys, as well, and I support that, in addition.
“I played with boys until I was 15 years old and I would not have it any other way. I loved my experience. I think it challenged me. I think it made me, and this is just my personal experience, a better player, a tougher player. I think it developed me in areas that I needed, and I loved it, so I really think that it’s up to the individual.”
The biggest, and easily most important, thing to consider, she said, is enjoying it.
“My biggest piece of advice is you’ve got to have fun playing hockey,” Duggan said. “You just have to. And that starts from the parents, with the kids and the coaches. If a girl wants to play girls hockey? Awesome. Let her do it. If she wants to play boys hockey? Awesome. Let her do it. I don’t think there’s a problem either way.”
After excelling as a multisport athlete at Cushing, Duggan went to Wisconsin to play four years under longtime Badgers coach Mark Johnson, where she was a part of three national titles. In 2011, a year after her first Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., she claimed the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top women’s player in Division 1. In 159 games as a Badger, she amassed an astronomical 238 points on 108 goals.
Ten years later, after a 14-year stint with the national team, winning a pair of silver medals in 2010 and 2014, before captaining USA to gold in 2018, and playing in several professional women’s hockey teams, Duggan is now retired.
“Hockey literally changed my life,” she wrote in a retirement essay published by ESPN in late 2020. “I put on a pair of skates as a toddler and grew up through the sport. It’s been one of the greatest privileges of my life to play for Team USA. While being an athlete will always be part of my identity, I am ready for the next chapter.”
She may be done playing, but that hasn’t stopped her from sharing her knowledge of the game, both as a coach and board member for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, paving the way for the future generations and having a lasting impact on players, much like the ones that did the same for her.
“One of the biggest things I love to talk about right now when I’m mentoring young kids is the importance of the people in your life,” Duggan said. “The importance of surrounding yourself with people that support your dreams that are going to encourage you and challenge you at times, obviously, in a way that helps you move forward and not in a way that holds you back and tells you, ‘You can’t do this.’
“I certainly had some of those in my life when I was a kid, (saying), ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ but I chose to surround myself with my tribe of people and mentors and family members that lifted me up and challenged me in the right ways.
“I mentioned my brother. I have an older sister Katelyn, as well, and my parents, my mom, Mary, and my dad, Bob. They just provided me with all the opportunities I needed, put me in a position to succeed. They were those amazing quiet parents in the stands that weren’t climbing over the glass or screaming at me in the car but allowing me to figure out the game and to understand when I made mistakes or why, and just supporting me as a young kid who loved hockey and had these big dreams.”
For more from Meghan Duggan on her climb through the women’s hockey ranks, as well as Jeff Cox on the state of youth hockey in New England, stream The Rink Shrinks podcast on a variety of audio platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn, or listen to the podcast directly online at hockeyjournal.com.
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