Jan. 31, 2011
MADISON, Wis. — Meghan Duggan did a double-take upon learning that she had joined an exclusive club in UW women’s hockey history. “I had no idea,” she said incredulously.
When she accounted for her 200th career point on Jan. 14 against St. Cloud State, she became only the second player to reach that plateau – joining Sara Bauer.
“To be on the same level with Sara is a huge honor,” said Duggan, a senior from Danvers, Mass. “To this day, I think Sara is one of the best college hockey players I’ve ever seen.”
As an impressionable freshman, Duggan was on the same line with Bauer, the 2006 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, and Jinelle Zaugg, who had been the UW’s career leader in goals (89) until Duggan’s current teammate, Hilary Knight, broke the record in early January.
“I was just a scared freshman,” Duggan admitted.
“I had no idea what kind of player I was going to be. I was just excited to be here and part of a team that had done great things. It’s a huge transition from high school hockey to college hockey. Players who transition well will be successful.”
Duggan falls into that category. Although she may not have known what to expect when she got to Wisconsin, she doesn’t sound like someone who’s going to leave anything to chance. Especially in her preparation and training for a sport that she has loved since first stepping on the ice when she was 3.
Her older brother, Bryan, was the impetus behind her learning how to skate.
“My parents tell the story how they were signing Bryan up for youth hockey and there was a family package deal,” Duggan said. “Rather than having me run around the rink while my brother was on the ice, they figured they might as well throw both of us out there. And I just fell in love with it.
“We had a great developmental program in my town and one of the things you did when you first learn how to skate is push egg crates from one side to the other. The big day? When you lose the crate and you get to skate on your own. Then you move up to holding a hockey stick in your hand.’’
Duggan began playing competitive hockey when she was 5.
“I was a little tomboy when I was growing up,” she said.
At 14, she made a decision that would affect the rest of her athletic career.
“If I wanted to play college hockey and go to the Olympics, I needed to put myself on the map for women’s hockey,” she said. “Cushing Academy was kind of a hockey factory for men and women.”
Cushing Academy, grades 9 through 12, is a boarding school in Ashburnham, Mass. “It was somewhere I could go and play at a high pace,” she said, “so I’d eventually be able to play in college.”
Duggan didn’t limit herself to just growing as an athlete.
She was class president four straight years.
“I’m a pretty outgoing kid, I guess,” she said with a shrug.
Besides hockey, she played soccer and softball. When the latter wasn’t competitive enough, she switched to lacrosse. She really wanted to play baseball with the boys. “I had played baseball my whole life and loved it,” said Duggan, a Little League centerfielder and catcher.
At Cushing, she took her first steps to become a big leaguer in hockey – which she is today. Asked to reflect on her development since her freshman season with the Badgers, she said, “I’ve just gotten better all-around. In general, my speed and strength on the ice got better.”
As a consequence of improving in these areas, she noted, “It translates into your shooting – your shot is better and you can battle harder against people. I’ve just learned so much from coach (Mark) Johnson obviously and the players that I’ve played alongside.”
So if she had no idea about how 200 career points put her in select company with Bauer, does she pay any attention to point-scoring streaks, like the 22-game streak that she’s presently on?
“I don’t honestly think about it,” Duggan said. “It’s kind of weird but I’ve never considered myself a player whose role is to go out and score a lot of goals. I think they come naturally when you put yourself in the right position and do the little things.
“My focus this year has been to lead the team in a positive way and do those things – chip pucks out and block shots, stuff like that. Eventually they turn into goal-scoring opportunities.”
Being a member of U.S. Olympic team has definitely impacted her overall game.“The amount that I learned last season and the training that we were put through changed me as an athlete altogether,” Duggan said. “It made me a physically and mentally tougher elite athlete.”
As one of the returning Olympians, is there more pressure to produce? “A little bit,” she said. “You want to be able to come back and share your experiences with your teammates.”
One of her greatest post-Olympics experience was throwing out the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game in historic Fenway Park.
“That was a dream come true,” said Duggan, whose sister Katelyn is a hardcore Bosox fan. “Standing on the mound at Fenway? Can you imagine? I was a little nervous.”
Did she get a chance to get some autographs? “We really didn’t get to interact with the (Boston) players that much which was kind of a bummer,” Duggan acknowledged.
But there was a role reversal. Duggan signed some autographs and posed for some pictures after leaving the field. She was accompanied by UW teammates Jessie Vetter and Knight. And she confided that it was kind of cool to be exposed to that level of celebrity as a women’s hockey player.
“It’s obviously not something we’re used to,” she said.
Winning championships, meanwhile, is something that never gets old at Wisconsin.
“It’s kind of unspoken,” Duggan said. “But every year that’s the goal obviously. You want to be the No. 1 team in the country and you want to make it to the national championship game. I’ve played in it three times and won it twice. When you get a taste of it, that’s what you want every year.”
Duggan, a biology major, would like to attend medical school at some point in the future.
She also wants to play on another Olympic team.
“I’m just going to keep playing until my body doesn’t want me to play anymore,” said the 23-year-old Duggan. “Physically, I’m still young. My body feels great and I love training.”
Hockey is a job, and much more. “It has been my life since I was a kid,” she said. “Sometimes I get off the ice and just smile and think about how much I love the sport and how lucky I am to play it.”