By Scott Lowe – MYHockey Rankngs.com
It seems appropriate that USA Hockey’s eighth annual Girls Hockey Weekend will be celebrated the same week that longtime U.S. National Team star and team-captain Meghan Duggan announced her retirement and that the Nasvhille Predators, Ford Ice Centers, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association announced an investment of more than $500,000 into the development of learn to skate and girls’ hockey programs in Middle Tennessee over the next two years.
Duggan is one of the trailblazers in women’s hockey who has helped draw the mainstream attention to the sport that has turned hockey into one of the fastest-growing youth sports for girls in the United States. Participation in girls’ hockey has grown by more than 37 percent since 2009, according to USA Hockey, increasing to more than 84,000 participants.
The captain of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, which captured its first gold in more than two decades, Duggan is the only male or female player to captain teams that earned an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA championship. The University of Wisconsin standout began playing with the National Team as a 19-year-old freshman in 2007, a spot she would maintain for 14 years and 137 appearances.
She recorded 40 goals and 35 assists in that span, claiming two silver medals in addition to the 2018 gold. The United also won seven International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) world championships during her tenure.
“Hockey literally changed my life,” the 33-year-old Duggan wrote on ESPN.com in her retirement announcement.
“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. I know it’s the right decision for me, but at the same time, it’s still very emotional.”
Duggan, who has a young son named George, is looking to continue impacting hockey by “working hard to change our sport for the better and taking pride in inspiring the next generation.” Despite the on-ice accolades and accomplishments, Duggan is most proud of how she and her teammates came together in 2017 to fight for equitable support and treatment for girls and women in the USA Hockey program.
“I had thousands of conversations with players from all levels, from the national team to high school, and their parents,” she wrote. “Some were scared. Some were hopeful. A lot of times we were frustrated. But we had to stick together, trust our guts and be confident that this was the right thing to do.”
Negotiations with USA Hockey drove the players to the point of threatening a boycott of the World Championships that year. The two sides came to an agreement on March 28, 2017, three days before the tournament was scheduled to begin, to end a wage dispute and avoid the boycott. The four-year agreement made it possible for National Team players to receive a livable wage that could exceed six figures with performance bonuses, business-class travel similar to the men’s team and insurance protection they had been seeking.
At the time Duggan, who delivered an emotional and tide-turning speech during negotiations, called it a “historic moment in women’s sports.” Reflecting this week, she added, “As I retire, reaching that landmark deal with USA Hockey in 2017 remains one of the highlights of my 14-year career with the National Team.”
The success Duggan and her teammates achieved on the ice – and in the board room – helped bring hockey to the forefront as a potential option for athletically minded girls all over the United States and provided role models for those already involved in the sport. During the negotiations with USA Hockey, the women’s team also raised awareness among male professional players, who mentioned the possibility of also boycotting that year’s World Championships if no agreement could be reached.
That brings us to the other big news in the world of girls’ and women’s hockey this week as the Predators and Ford Ice Centers, in conjunction with the NHL and NHLPA, announced the investment of more than a half-million dollars into growing hockey programs for girls in Middle Tennessee.
The funds were awarded to the Predators from the NHL’s Industry Growth Fund, which was created as part of the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NHLPA. It was established to support NHL and club business initiatives and programs intended to promote long-term revenue and fan growth.
"Growing the sport of hockey has always been at the forefront of our organization, and we are incredibly grateful for the NHL and NHLPA's continued support of our efforts," Predators President and CEO Sean Henry said in an announcement. "The investment both organizations have made in our girls’ hockey and learn to skate programs through the Industry Growth Fund will further help us achieve our goal of making hockey and skating more accessible in the Smashville community.”
If you had mentioned hockey for girls in Nashville 20 years ago it’s likely that you would have been met with blank stares. Thanks to Duggan and her teammates, as well as the efforts of USA Hockey, the NHL and NHLPA, the sport has come a long way in a short time. And the momentum continues to build.
This weekend USA hockey honors the sport’s past and future with its eighth annual Girls Hockey Weekend
, described as “an opportunity to celebrate the current players of girls hockey and help the continued efforts to grow participation within the game.”
Local associations and ice rinks nationwide will be participating in coordinated events throughout the weekend, including hosting Try Hockey for Free opportunities, season kick-off parties and virtual celebrations. Players, coaches and volunteers around the U.S. are asked to document their activities using the hashtag #GirlsHockey.
Some suggested ways that players can participate include:
Posting a photo of your favorite player and explain why.
Thanking someone who has inspired you in hockey.
Posting a favorite photo of yourself with a caption about why you play.
Tagging a friend who hasn’t tried hockey and inviting them out for a skate.
Posting a photo and tagging your favorite U.S. National Team player.
You can CLICK HERE
to go to the USA Hockey girls’ hockey home page and CLICK HERE
to make a donation to support girls’ hockey in the United States.