In the midst of the U.S. women’s hockey national team fighting for better wages and equitable support, Meghan Duggan got on the phone with every player to explain what it was all about.
With the world championships on home ice weeks away and the stakes high, Duggan felt it was her duty as captain.
"When you think of a captain on your team and a leader on your team, you want someone that’s willing to do things that no one else is willing to do," teammate Monique Lamoureux-Morando recalled.
Duggan did that on and off the ice, leading the U.S. to the 2018 Olympic gold medal and spearheading the wage boycott. A year earlier, that fight led to a new contract and a brighter spotlight on the sport.
"We were able to work through that and move through things together and be on the right side of history," Duggan said Tuesday in announcing her retirement after 11 years with the national team. "That experience brought us together as a team, it empowered us and it encouraged us to be even better moving forward."
Duggan was the first American men’s or women’s player to win seven consecutive world championship gold medals, two silver medals at the Olympics and one at worlds and the title in South Korea in her final international tournament. She said family, teammates, coaches, staff, fans and the next generation changed her life.
She also changed theirs.
Her legacy off the ice will be defined by her role in the 2017 boycott over player compensation, especially in non-Olympic years. Duggan was a central figure in negotiations with USA Hockey and was a spokeswoman for the team while they were ongoing before a four-year deal was reached.
"She fights for our sport the way she fought on the ice to win a game," said Canadian defender Renata Fast, who had Duggan as an assistant coach at Clarkson University and played against her at the Olympics. "She was just so competitive in everything she did, and she always had a great head on her shoulders that knew the direction of where our sport needed to go."
With Duggan wearing the captain’s "C," the U.S. won the worlds after their contract victory. Then she turned her attention to the Olympic gold medal that had eluded the U.S. since 1998.
At an event in the fall of 2017 at Nike’s campus in Beaverton, Oregon, Duggan took copious notes when Hockey Hall of Famer and ’98 gold medallist Cammi Granato was addressing the team. Duggan and Granato had countless conversations that year about getting a more equitable contract and trying to win at the Olympics.
"The gist of it was, `How do we win this gold medal?"’ Granato said. "Like, `We are not going to this Olympics and coming away without a gold — how do we do it?"’
Duggan recorded 75 points (45 goals, 30 assists) in 137 games in a U.S. uniform and helped transform the culture after a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game at the 2014 Sochi Games.
"I think that span from 2014 to 2018 was probably the most crucial years for our program," longtime teammate and friend Kacey Bellamy said. "Meghan had such a hand in the way she led our team and the change in culture that we had to do in order to be successful, and that’s one of the main reasons why we won gold in 2018."
Duggan was a founding member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association in 2019. The aim was to establish one sustainable pro league. She could continue playing a crucial role in fighting for more prominence for her sport.
"She’ll continue to be a part of that, obviously not as a player, but I think in other ways," said Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, who played against Duggan with Canada and now works as an executive with the PWHPA. "We’re lucky to have her as a voice."
Duggan put up 238 points in 159 games over four seasons while winning three national championships at the University of Wisconsin. She had 19 points in 26 games over four in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and 36 more during two in the National Women’s Hockey League.
"It goes just to her work ethic on the ice — hardest worker I know," said Brianna Decker, who played with Duggan in college, the CWHL, NWHL and on the national team. "She always led by example on the ice but off the ice, too, every little detail of the game."
Because of her accomplishments from the boardroom to the locker room and on the ice, Duggan will likely soon be a part of at least the U.S. Hockey and International Ice Hockey Federation Halls of Fame. She won’t have to wait long.
"Not many athletes get to end their career on top," teammate Kendall Coyne Schofield said. "Whatever the criteria is for the the waiting period, she’ll be there. So give it the grace period and we’ll definitely see her in those Hall of Fames."