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U.S. hockey's Duggan is a born leader

Wisconsin grad relishes another chance for Olympic gold

In March, Meghan Duggan’s leadership skills were challenged in ways she hadn’t experienced before.

The captain of the U.S. women’s hockey team was the face of a boycott before the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. Duggan and her teammates were refusing to take part in the tournament after negotiations with USA Hockey for benefits stalled. On the line: Demands for equal treatment with their male counterparts on issues like pay and year-round support.

Competition dates
  • U.S. vs. Finland, Feb. 11.
  • U.S. vs. Russian athletes, Feb. 13.
  • U.S. vs. Canada, Feb. 14
  • Quarterfinals, Feb. 16-17.
  • Semifinals, Feb. 19.
  • Gold medal and bronze medal games, Feb. 22.

Duggan, who played collegiately at Wisconsin and set school records in career points (238) and plus/minus (plus-164), was used to leading the team on and off the ice. But this dispute — which at times focused on treatment the players believed was petty and disrespectful, such as flying the men’s team in business class while the women flew coach — placed her more in the spotlight.

What on the surface was a sports dispute was, at its heart, a fight for equality.

“While the stimulus was different, the time was about leadership, communication and unity,” said Duggan, who will compete with her teammates in the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “We were reading contracts and talking in terminology that lawyers use. That was different from the everyday chalk talk in the locker room, but the core of what we were doing was similar to what we do on a daily basis.”

Duggan was the point person on the players’ side of the labor dispute, and she received messages of support from women’s sports pioneers, who had to fight similar battles.

Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team from the 1990s and tennis legend Billie Jean King offered advice.

Duggan also leaned on her upbringing to help her during the trying times of the labor negotiations.

“I come from a strong, passionate family, and I am the spitting image of my mom,” Duggan said. “My parents raised me to be emotionally strong and to stand up for what I believe in. Leaders have to voice their opinions at difficult times.”  

The two sides eventually reached an agreement before the world championships with the women’s hockey players receiving wage increases and insurance and travel arrangements on par with what the U.S. men’s national teams receive.

“I can’t put into words what it meant for someone like Billie Jean King to reach out to us,” said Duggan, who won three NCAA titles with the Badgers. “I’m so proud to be a strong, powerful female athlete. The world needs women that are going to stand up and pave the way for future generations.”

The U.S. women went on to win the world championship and have spent the past 10 months preparing to battle for gold at the Olympics.

This is Duggan’s third Olympic appearance, and her second straight being the captain of the U.S. squad. Duggan and her teammates are looking to wrestle the gold medal from archrival Canada, which beat Team USA 3-2 in overtime in the gold medal match in Sochi, Russia.

“The last two Olympic finals have been heartbreaking for us,” Duggan said. “Those losses have shaped us as athletes, but more importantly as people. We don’t train that hard to come in second place, but you find ways to keep moving forward.”