This is the seventh in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th Anniversary Team. This week's honoree is Meghan Duggan, who played at the University of Wisconsin from 2006-07 to 2010-11.
By Bill Brophy
When Meghan Duggan returned to Madison in October for a 20-year reunion of Wisconsin women's hockey, most everyone at LaBahn Arena that night recalled she was a Patty Kazmaier Award winner.
But everyone knew her by her new nickname, which resonated through the building when she dropped the first puck at the Badgers' game against Princeton: "Captain America."
Duggan was always known for her leadership ability. She played on three national championship teams in her four years at Wisconsin and was captain for two of them.
It was no surprise, then, when she was named captain of Team USA prior to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. As such, she was the player who was presented the gold medal after the shootout win over Canada.
"She is the best captain I have ever had or have seen," said Badgers head coach Mark Johnson, who coached Duggan at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and won NCAA titles with her at Wisconsin in 2007, 2009 and 2011. "She demanded attention and accountability. She was a player that played at 100 percent. I was very, very happy and thrilled for her last year when she walked away with the gold medal because I know she wanted it and how passionate she worked to get it. Then to watch her put it around her neck, it was certainly a special moment for her and her family."
Duggan has always had a team-first attitude. She grew up in Danvers, Mass. and went to Cushing Academy before coming to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). Over the years she evolved from a big-time offensive player (who won the Patty Kaz Award as the nation's best player in 2011, was the WCHA scoring champion and Player of the Year, and was third all-time in Badger scoring history with 108 goals, 130 assists and 238 totals) into a two-way player who took pride in defensive responsibility and selfless play with the Olympic team.
Her favorite moment from the Olympics and the gold medal victory?
"That moment Maddie (Rooney) made the save in the shootout," said Duggan. "It was the purest joy you can feel. I couldn't get over the boards fast enough to celebrate with our team."
Duggan was used to victories while wearing the Team USA jersey. She won one silver and seven gold medals with the U.S. National Team at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championships. She also was among the team leaders when she and her teammates threatened to boycott the 2017 IIHF tournament until more support was given to them by USA Hockey. Their demands were met, and Duggan and her teammates went out and won gold for the fourth straight time, a pre-cursor to what was to come the following year in Korea.
"It (Olympic gold) was the greatest feeling in the world. What we wanted to achieve, we were able to come home with," said Duggan. "The last few months have been equally exciting."
For Duggan, that includes TV appearances on talk shows and at the ESPYs, throwing out the first pitch before her beloved Red Sox' game at Fenway Park and dropping a ceremonial first puck at a Bruins game. She also appeared in ESPN's "Body Issue."
Duggan, now 31, admits she had no idea the U.S. victory in Korea would be so impactful on the sport of women's hockey and in women's sports, in general.
"I think I still am pinching myself about that and the impact we had on girls and women everywhere, particularly in hockey," said Duggan. "That was a goal of our team, to leave the sport better when we are done than when we got in. It came in the wake of making the future of women's hockey better. I know it is something I take a lot of pride in and something our national team takes a lot of pride in as well. It was an honor and a privilege."
Duggan soaked in all the memories during her weekend in Madison. She played on some of the Badgers' best teams. Teammates at Wisconsin (Hilary Knight, Erika Lawler and Jessie Vetter) went on to become Olympic teammates as well.
"My experience here in Madison was top notch, every single year," said Duggan. "All the championships we won. The teams, the staff, the city, the culture."
She has special praise for Coach Johnson, now the winningest coach in women's college hockey history.
"He is the most amazing coach I have ever had," said Duggan. "He changed my life and the trajectory of me as an athlete. Obviously, he led our team to multiple championships when I was here. There is something about him that is different from any other coach I have ever had. The players respect him. They trust him. He expects accountability and professionalism. He sets the standards for that and creates the culture here and the players follow that."
Duggan is taking a few months off from hockey. She married long-time Canadian hockey player Gillian Apps in a September ceremony that was noted in publications all over North America. She has served as an assistant coach at Clarkson before, but when you ask Captain America about the future, she still talks about another Olympic run.
"That is the plan," she said, "Once you get the itch, you never want to stop."