As an eventful time transitioned into the offseason, a return to the famed Fenway Park in Boston accentuates Meghan Duggan’s tremendous impact as a role model. Symbolizing what is good about the game, Duggan’s character and strong leadership led to a pair of inspiring victories for the United States women’s ice hockey team.
From the outset, a courageous battle over pay equity, one fought collectively by all the members of the women’s national team in the name of dignity and fairness, was a remarkable show of solidarity. Standing up for sporting equality, it resulted in an emotional connection throughout the sporting community.
Reaching a new collective agreement helped to provide an encouraging tone. With Duggan serving as team captain, the feeling of redemption ran strong through all the accomplished players donning the stars and stripes on their jerseys.
Five years earlier, Burlington, Vermont played host to the world’s finest, becoming only the second American city to host an IIHF Women’s World Championship event. As a key component of Team USA’s leadership core, Duggan was heartbroken with the final outcome, seeing archrival Canada come from behind to prevail against the favored Americans in overtime.
With the city of Plymouth, Michigan as host for the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships, emotions ran high as a half-decade wait in the quest for the first gold on American soil was about to be fulfilled. Although the United States U18 women’s team have captured world championship gold as host country, achieving the feat in Buffalo, New York, it was an achievement that the senior team, led by team captain Duggan were hoping to emulate. Undoubtedly, there was a need to eliminate this lingering sense of jinx.
Once again, overtime would be required to determine the winner, as the eternal rivalry between the United States and Canada took on a new chapter. Hilary Knight, who has called Duggan a teammate four separate times (NCAA, IIHF, CWHL, NWHL) would score one of the most historic goals in the history of ice hockey in the United States, propelling the jubilant squad to their eighth world title, and first on home soil.
For Duggan, whose legacy as the leader of this historic team has helped to cement the status of Team USA as the greatest in the world, it furthers her place among the upper echelon of American hockey greats, transforming her into an icon. While there have been a series of jubilant and empowering memories made that shall last a lifetime, the element that truly enriched this golden performance were enhanced by the ability to achieve this pinnacle with friends and family on –hand,
“Winning a gold medal is always the ultimate goal of our team. To do it on home soil, in overtime and to have it come on the heels of the historic movement in women’s hockey that we started certainly made this World Championship victory extra sweet.
One of the greatest parts of competing and winning at home is being able to celebrate and share the experience with all of our families and friends who were able to make the short trip to Michigan!”
During Patriots Day, which saw the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays at 11:05 am, the famous Boston Marathon also took place, with each highlighted by a significant women’s hockey influence. Of note, former Boston Blades and Boston Pride competitor Denna Laing participated in the Marathon, joined by former NHLer Bobby Carpenter, whose daughter Alex won Gold with the US and recently finished her rookie season in the NWHL. As a side note, Cherie Hendrickson (who captured a Clarkson Cup with Duggan in 2013) ran the Marathon in 2016 raising funds in honor of Laing.
Joined by 10 of her teammates, all wearing their USA jerseys with a heightened sense of achieved fulfillment, Fenway Park would be the setting for a well-deserved celebration of more than just ice hockey dominance, but a chance to appreciate a group of sporting role models. Headlined by captain Duggan, she was in the company of overtime hero Knight, along with Brianna Decker, another four-time teammate, recognized as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 IIHF Worlds.
In a season that has seen the United States captured three gold medals in IIHF play, complemented by Angela Ruggiero’s induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame (her third Hall of Fame honor), the feeling of festivity at Fenway Park was recognition of a new and compelling chapter in sporting Americana.
Such an experience took on an even more profound meaning for Duggan. For the third time in this decade, she has enjoyed the privilege of gracing Fenway’s hallowed playing field as an honored guest. Absolutely, there is a strong emotional connection for Duggan, who was raised in Danvers, Massachusetts.
While the privilege of the first pitch/pregame ceremony represents every baseball fan’s dream, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was once reserved exclusively for US Presidents, Duggan’s opportunity to enjoy this privilege thrice is testament to her status as a highly celebrated athlete in one of America’s greatest sporting cities. Reflecting on such experiences, the magnitude of a legendary venue such as Fenway certainly provides endless fascination.
“As a local and an avid Boston sports fan, it’s a pretty incredible feeling to be on the field at Fenway Park. To have the opportunity to step on the mound 3 times is beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and it NEVER gets old!
It was quite the honor for our team to be invited to Fenway and the Red Sox were incredibly gracious hosts, treating us to the game and lunch as well – for players and guests! Getting to share a moment like that with my teammates and closest friends, with gold medals around our necks, just makes it extra special!”
The first experience took place in the aftermath of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, where Duggan was part of a group of celebrated US hockey players raised in New England, including Julie Chu and Erika Lawler, which were invited by the Red Sox for a pregame celebration. As a side note, 2010 would also see Duggan and her US teammates skate on the frozen rink at Fenway, which had been installed in late December 2010 for the Heritage Classic.
Duggan’s second experience on the Fenway mound would be much more different in comparison to the first and third. Adorned in a white Red Sox jersey, among a group of New Englanders who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, she made national news for her levity. Paying homage in pleasantry to Michael Pineda, who was ejected in a game against the Red Sox earlier in the 2014 season after an umpire pointed to his neck, spotting a smear of pine tar, Duggan mimicked the motion, before successfully hurling the baseball towards home plate.
Among all these cherished pregame celebrations, the third may have been the most heartwarming, possessing an incredible emotion. While Duggan was given the baseball, she summoned teammate Kacey Bellamy to the pitcher’s mound. Displaying a tremendous touch of class and sportsmanship, she would place it in Bellamy’s palm, allowing her the opportunity to experience the thrill of standing on the mound, both sharing in the magnitude of merriment.
One of the alternate captains on the squad (the other being Monique Lamoureux), Bellamy was just a few weeks from celebrating her milestone 30th birthday. With Duggan’s kind gesture, the honor of the ceremonial first pitch would supply an early gift, resulting in a treasured hallmark, embodying the essence of friendship and teamwork that shall be cherished far beyond the birthday has passed.
Taking into account that the Red Sox have invited Duggan and her national team counterparts on multiple occasions, along with pre-game celebrations for both the Boston Blades and Boston Pride’s championship wins; the organization’s support of the halcyon days for women’s ice hockey represents more than just an exceptional gesture.
Such an appreciative outpouring of support provides a collective sense of victory for all involved with the game in Beantown. For one of its most celebrated heroes, Duggan is most grateful for the acknowledgement that one of baseball’s signature franchises has bestowed upon such a dedicated and talented group of female hockey stars that have added luster to the game’s allure,
“Incredibly proud! As I mentioned before – the Red Sox are amazing hosts and their support of Women’s Hockey over the years is honorable! They have given us some experiences that we will never forget!”
A real-life Captain America, Duggan’s achievements are an inspiration for an entire generation. As her hockey legacy continues to take on greater meaning, symbolizing the transition into national acceptance, subsequently an amazing ambition for sporting equality, one day her heroics shall be transformed into an essential chapter of the game’s mythology.
“All quotes obtained first hand until otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Billie Weiss, Getty Images