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Podcast Episode 40: A convo with world champ and Olympic gold medalist, US hockey’s Meghan Duggan


This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph interview legendary US national hockey team captain, Meghan Duggan. The Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champ discusses her career, her fight for equality and subsequent pay equity (hint: they won), girl's participation in sports, motherhood and her aspirations to become the first female general manager of an NHL team. You don’t want to miss this. Tune in, won’t you?

October 21, 2020
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)


Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.


Ellen: What is up GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And today we're joined by Olympic gold medalist and retired hockey player Megan Dugan. Let's get to it. Ok, Steph, I am super pumped and so excited for this podcast for three reasons, I'm always excited for our podcast, but for this one I'm super excited for three reasons. One, because we have podcast art that makes us look super jacked.

Steph: Oh, the most jacked.

Ellen: The most jacked. It's like all of quarantine, all we've been doing is push ups, tricep dips and bicep curls. That's all we've been doing actually during quarantine.

Steph: I did that for like three weeks straight and then gave up. So there was a point in time where that was true.

Ellen: There was a point in time. And Steph, I do have to say, I was proud of the muscle mass that you did gain on your arms.

Steph: Thanks.

Ellen: So, anyway, super pumped for our new logo and for our new podcast art. So that's the first reason why I'm stoked about today's podcast. The second reason is because we launched a Twitter, we followed our Gen Z intern's advice and decided to launch a Twitter that you and I will both be managing and writing all of our tweets. So if you're listening in your Twitter gal or pal, go and check us out @thegistpod. And we'd love to hear from you and we'd love for you to follow us.

Steph: I've already started to troll Ellen a little bit on it. So let's see how this goes.

Steph: Yeah, let's see. I'm not really a huge Twitter person, so I'm going to get into it though. And this will be the best thing that we have ever had with The GIST of It pod. But third, and really the true reason why we are pumped for today's podcast is because Steph you had the chance to interview a hockey icon, former U.S. Women's National Hockey Team captain Meghan Duggan.

Steph: It was like insert mom's spaghetti line here. It was a nerve racking. She's such a legend. Oh, my God. But she has such chill vibes. The moment that she picked up the phone, I was just so excited to talk to her. 

Ellen: Yeah. Such a hockey player. And also, I think similar to our interview with Cassie Campbell, who is a retired Canadian women's captain. You could just tell right away what a leader she was and what an athlete she was the minute I started listening to that interview.

Steph: She's so poised. And every interview you read about online is just poetic answers. I got to love her.

Ellen: Got to love her. And for those of you who might not be familiar with Meghan Duggan, here are three key points on her to keep in mind throughout this interview. She is a three time Olympian, winning two silver medals and one gold medal, the most recent one being the gold medal.

Steph: Oh, my gosh. I remember being up at a bar until like two or three in the morning watching that go into overtime and the Canadians lose and the US win I mean, it was a great game to watch. So hats off to the U.S. team.

Ellen: Hats off to the US team there. Hopefully. Twenty two is a different story. Sorry, I got to say it. Megan is also a seven time world champion. Count it seven times. And I think most importantly, and something that I really took away from your interview with her Steph, is that she's a fierce advocate for equality in sports, especially when it comes to encouraging young girls as well as women to participate and be involved with hockey as well as for equal pay.

Steph: I think that is 100 percent going to be her legacy here.

Ellen: Great. All right. So let's get to your interview with Meghan.

Steph: Thanks again for joining us after the announcement of your retirement from your monumental hockey career. I'm again, I'm a huge fan of women's hockey and especially the Canada versus US rivalry series. And I think often of that 1998 Olympics, the first time that women's hockey was a sport at the Olympics. And that year is often cited as this moment that changed women's hockey forever. But I would love to know for you personally if there was a moment for you that made you fall in love with the sport.

Meghan: First of all, thanks for having me on. I love the GIST, and I love talking hockey with hockey fans, so I'm really excited to be on today and appreciate your love and passion for the game and the rivalry. So excited to answer some questions. That 1998 Olympics, the first time women's ice hockey was in the Olympics and the US winning gold was definitely a crucial point for me in my career. And I think about aha moments, that's definitely one of them. But outside of that, I think back to when I was a kid and just the pure joy of loving hockey so much from day one, always wanting to be at the rink, I put skates on for the first time in a learn to skate program in Danvers, Massachusetts, back when I was three years old in the early 90s and just fell in love with it. And so when I think back to the aha moments I've had in my career, it's fun to just remember being a kid and loving playing hockey and that just kind of be my driving force from day one.

Steph: I love that thinking back to as a child, to those initial smells of the arena and falling on the ice for the first time, there're so many fond memories to think back to. I'm sure even after all these years, my first hockey game certainly was not with an all girls' hockey team and I'm curious, was the first time that you played, was it on an all girls team or was there a moment that that switch started to happen, for you in your career?

Meghan:  Similar to you mine was not with an all girls team. I grew up playing with boys up until I went to high school. And mostly probably because at the time I didn't have there were no opportunities for girls to play on girls teams. I was the only girl hockey player I saw in my community. And kudos to all the guys I played with growing up. A lot of them are still my friends to this day, but I had wonderful experiences on all the boys teams I was on. And that was awesome to be a part of the first time I played Girls, Hockey was right around high school age, as I mentioned, and it was really I got into girls hockey because I started to think about at that point wanting to play Division 1 college hockey and wanting to have a career as an Olympian. And in order to do those things, I needed to start being exposed to girls and women playing hockey. And that was a fantastic transition for me. And I enjoyed my time with the boys. But it was also awesome to have my eyes open to other elite women and girls that played hockey at that time.

Steph: I get so emotional thinking about how quickly girls hockey has grown in our lifetime too, thinking about how you could fit all of the girls hockey programs in one room in my hometown, and it just exploded to so many different programs. So it's nice to see it evolve so quickly as well.

Meghan: I agree. Absolutely. It's something that I know our team takes a lot of pride in wanting to continue to grow the game and inspire young girls or even young boys to continue to sign up and play hockey. And when I think about it for me, I mean, hockey changed my life and I love encouraging young girls to try it out and to get involved because it's obviously a great sport that I love very much.

Steph: Fast forward, you mentioned those aspirations about making it to the Olympics and playing college hockey, your first Olympics were in 2010 and you returned in 2014 as captain of the team after missing about a year of play due to a head injury. And head injuries are tough when you are named captain of the U.S. women's national team. What went through your mind at that moment? Were those moments of perseverance and growth top of mind for you?

Meghan: Absolutely. I mean, as you mentioned, I had come off of a head injury in between the two Olympics. And I was at a point at, you know, during that injury and during being sidelined where I thought I would never play again. So just coming back and making the team and getting back on the ice and getting back in the weight room definitely had a lot of thoughts of just how wonderful it was to persevere through that and how fortunate I was and how excited I was to move forward. Being named captain of the team that time back before the 2014 Olympics and every time after that, leading up to now finishing my career is one of the greatest honors I could ever imagine. And it's something that I've taken so much pride in over the years and that I do not take lightly. I've tried to every year just grow and mature through my leadership and learn different things. And you're forced to learn a lot about yourself and about your leadership techniques. Obviously, when you face challenges and you go through ups and downs with your team, but also try to just pull from mentors and read a lot or listen a lot in regards to what other great leaders in our sport or outside of our sport were doing as well. So, yeah, definitely something I take a ton of pride in was a tremendous honor and one of the highlights of my career.

Steph: You talked about that leadership piece, too, about becoming captain and evolving over time. I am so fascinated, too, because during the period between the 2014 in 2018 Olympics, you were assistant coach at Clarkson University during that time before stepping away to focus fully on the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Did that coaching experience help prepare you to win gold in 2018?

Meghan: I'm sure that was definitely a piece of it. I think those two years I spent coaching were certainly transformative for me. I learned a lot about the game and seeing it in a different light. I had a great mentor at Clarkson, the head coach there, Matt Desrochers, who really took me under his wing and taught me a lot. And like I said, I saw the game differently. I also had to see what I was made of a little bit in those couple of years while coaching full time and training full time and playing professionally, not a lot of rest or days off during that time period. So it was a great challenge for me mentally, physically and emotionally. But like I said, I also was able to soak in some unbelievable knowledge of the game from a great mentor and just really had a wonderful, wonderful experience there. And I would definitely say that some of the things that I learned or went through during those years contributed in numerous ways to the success that I had in 2018.

Steph: I read, I think in a piece in The Athletic, the sheer hours you would spend driving during that period of time to move around in your car to make all of these commitments happen. What was that like? Was it adrenaline? How did you pull through those days?

Meghan: Yeah, it was insane, thinking back to it. Now I almost shake my head and think, how did I do that driving through the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning just to make sure I was being accountable to all the things I had committed to. Definitely kudos to my wife Jillian during that time frame. She was my copilot a lot of the time and helped me out and on the drives that I didn't have her with me were much more difficult. So I think I had a lot going on at that time frame. But again, I'm the type of person that when I commit to something, I'm going to give it my all. And during that time frame, it definitely meant maybe I would get a little less sleep or fewer days off. But it all worked out in the end. And like I said, I learned a lot about myself during that time period facing a lot of those different challenges or adversity that I'm thankful for.

Steph: I love that we rarely do things alone in this life. So that's a nice nod to your network there and your support system that's so important, I'm sure, for athletes, especially lately. Before the twenty eighteen Olympics, you were, of course, a central figure in negotiations with USA Hockey in the fight for equal pay, which did lead to a threatened boycott of the world championships in 2017 if they were unable to respond to your team's demands and needs. Speaking of tenacity, I read a tweet that said you made one hundred phone calls in one day to unite all of the players in the national pool to make sure that that boycott was successful. What was that process like? What was that one twenty four hour period. 

Meghan: That was just that was just one difficult day among a lot of difficulties that myself and all of my teammates and especially the core leaders on our team that we're kind of leading this movement had. But I would say speaking directly to to that in the phone calls, one of the biggest pieces of the whole thing and what was so important to myself and my teammates at the time was that everyone who was involved understood everything about what was happening and had all the facts and had the ability to ask all of the questions that they wanted to ask. And as a captain of the team, I obviously put it on my shoulders a little bit that I wanted to make sure I was available to discuss everything at any time. And so we got to the point where there was some concern over our NGB bringing in scab players when we had threatened to boycott. And it was important for us to make those phone calls to potential scab players or really, it ended up being almost every female hockey player in the United States that we ended up calling to just make sure that they understood why we were doing this, what we were doing, let them ask any questions and ask them to stand with us. We weren't threatening anyone or anything like that. I think that it was just more, hey, this is why we're doing this. This is who it's for. And we'd love for you to be on our side. And so that was kind of the gist of a lot of those phone calls. I spent hours and hours and hours on the phone. A lot of us did, but we were passionate about it and it was the right thing to do at the time.

Steph: What was the biggest win for you during that time of negotiation? Was it being able to unite and make these connections across the country with women hockey players?

Meghan: I mean, that's definitely one of them. I think changing the future of our sport and providing girls in our program with more support and more opportunities was definitely a huge win. I think it united our team in an emotional way, in an empowering way off the ice that I almost can't explain, but that I know was a crucial factor in not only the gold medal that we ended up winning that year at the world championships, but fast forward a year later and winning a gold medal at the Olympics in 2018. I think that it's a huge legacy of our team and something that I know that we're all as proud of as we are winning a gold medal at the Olympics. So when I think back over my career, that's something that immediately comes to mind and that I will always be super proud of our team for.

Steph: I can only imagine how much that would have united your team, because even just being online during that period of time on Twitter, Instagram, it was uniting so many hockey fans in that moment, too. So that must have been otherworldly to be a part of that experience and being able to share that with the team.

Meghan: Yeah, it definitely was. I mean, just like I said, I use the word empowering. And it really was. I mean, those couple of weeks where we were boycotting and having a lot of meetings, they were draining and they were tough and they were emotional. Once we got through everything, we showed up at the world championships and just steamrolled through the tournament. And I swear, we were just stronger from what we had been through together off the ice. And we were energized by that because in any other circumstance, it was an energy drain prior to that. So it really, really was empowering.

Steph: Taking a step back from hockey and this movement for equal pay. I'm curious if athletes across leagues and sports, so thinking of the National Women's Soccer League, WNBA, the Women's National Hockey Team, etc., did you lean on each other at all during those negotiations for advice on best practices or for support?

Meghan: Definitely. There's there's a handful of players across all the leagues that have connections and know each other. And and also, even if you don't personally know each other, I think you can respect and appreciate and support women trying to make a change in their sport. And we've been in vocal support of the WNBA and like you said, women's soccer and anything we can do to be allies for women in other sports. And it was no different back then. We had a lot of different women reaching out to us. How can we help? We asked a few players for advice and if they had advice from when they were in situations similar to what we found ourselves in. And yeah, we leaned on each other a few times, which is awesome and empowering in itself.

Steph: Word is you spent some time around Billie Jean King as well, the tennis legend, and there must be so many different experiences I'm sure you could pull from. But what do you think hockey can learn from other sports to help advance equality in the game, whether that's equality for women or LGBTQ+ community or for BIPOC players? What can we learn from other sports?

Meghan: I'll never forget, actually, the first time we heard from Billie Jean King, our team, it was during this 2017 boycott time period. And I got an email to my personal account from her basically saying, saw what you girls are doing, and want to support in any way that I can. And I remember texting it to the team or sending it to the team and saying, oh my gosh, you guys, we've made it. Billie Jean King is reaching out and just wow, what an icon and an ambassador and someone that all of us should aspire to be and to since then, I've had many conversations with her and Ilana Kloss have had their support and mentorship that I'm super thankful for. And they're just they're just leading in and driving change in all aspects, in all sports and all of the things you just recognize. So if there's ever someone to aspire to be like or to learn from, they are definitely at the top of the list. But I think we all know anyone that's involved in sports and we've seen, sports are there just such a microcosm for everything that's going on. And it's been amazing to see so many athletes using their platforms and using that more than an athlete mentality to shine light to a lot of different injustices and a lot of different changes that we need to see. And I'm energized to continue to be a part of it. I want to use my platform in any way that I can. And I want to continue to move the needle in areas of racial injustice and homophobia in sports and all sorts of things like that. And I'm excited to make that a priority for me as I will start to have more time away from playing.

Steph: That's amazing. It's it's exciting moment to be in for sure, as sports are integrating these conversations about civil rights into our advocacy. While we're thinking about advancing the sport and we're thinking about these major milestones that have been achieved in women's hockey, I think about the 2018 NHL all star skill competition. When you, Amanda Kessel and Hilary Knight were there for the first time, and when you stepped out to demonstrate the passing drill, you became the first woman on the ice at an NHL All-Star event, which is so huge. And the following two All-Star weekends went on to feature the women's game even more when we had Kendall Coyne Schofield competing in the fastest skater contests. And then this year in 2020, with the Canada versus US three on three game, it's so exciting to see the women's game evolve in those particular events. And I'm curious if you would love to see or what you would like to see between the NHL and women's hockey. Would you like to see more crossover?

Meghan: Absolutely. I think that makes a ton of sense. A women's professional hockey partnership with the NHL would be fantastic. I think it would be beneficial for both parties. And that's certainly something that we as players and have are working towards. And I think the integration that the NHL has had in the past of women at their events and kind of opening the eyes of their fans and their industry to incredible female athletes has been fantastic. And kudos to them for including women in some of those amazing events, because I think it's been a wonderful showcase of our sport. And just like with everything, we've come a long way but there's still progress to be made. And I'm looking forward to, like I said, assisting and continuing to move the needle in that area.

Steph: In your recent conversation with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, you mentioned that when you were a kid, you told every single person that you knew you're going to be in the Olympics one day and Captain Team USA to a gold medal. And in that same conversation, when talking about the next possible steps of your hockey career, you know that you always dreamt about becoming the first female general manager of an NHL team. And when I read that, I just I paused and was so grateful to see that in text because I feel like as kids were so unafraid to speak about our aspirations and our hopes and our dreams, but as we grow a little bit older, we guard ourselves, which is why for young girls and sports, it's so important to hear Megan Duggan say she's proud about her accomplishments and to be so open about your goals. And I'm wondering, how can other women learn to harness this champion spirit that you have?

Meghan: I love that and I appreciate that. That's something that you took away from the article because it was something, as you know, you might have seen, by the way that I wrote it, is something I was struggling with trying to put in there. How forward can you be with your goals and your dreams and, you know, is it OK to say you're proud of yourself and your teammates and all of that? And I decided to charge forward with it, but again, for the sole purpose of, you know, helping to inspire young girls to want to, you know, dream big, to aim high, to put their goals out there. And yeah, when I was a young kid, I ran around everywhere saying, I'm going to go to the Olympics, I'm going to go to the Olympics. And there's this something so just wonderful and peaceful about that to me. So that was a huge reason why I put it in there. And as I've grown and matured through my career and I still have a long way to go and a lot of things to learn. But I've learned a lot about preparation and confidence and asking questions and trying to learn and trying to grow and become better. And it's OK to talk about those things and it's OK to aim high. We're all we're all going to have bumps along the way where none of us are going to be perfect. And a lot of those challenges are things like that are going to be seen and talked about as well. But I think setting goals and going after them and having the confidence and preparing so that you can have confidence are really important. And those are things that have helped me along the way and that I want to try to get out there to help any other girls that may find themselves in my position.

Steph: I know I'm not the first person to say this, but obviously you have so much experience, whether that's as a player, a coach, on camera experience and more. With your resume, you could do anything. What draws you to the position of general manager?

Meghan: Oh, great question. I don't know. It's going to be it's it's going to be interesting in the next little bit, obviously. And I'm excited to figure out and work towards exactly what I want and what's important to me and where I feel I can best contribute. I just think that position is very interesting and incorporates a lot of components. I've coached, I've played, I would love to learn more about the business side. I've dabbled in a little bit some of the scouting side and player development and things like that. So to me, it just brings together a lot of different components. And again, it's something that why not aim high? Why not throw some huge dream out there and just work towards it every single day and have confidence and prepare myself and soak things in and be a sponge and learn and, you know, kind of bounce through adversities and things like that on the way. So we'll see. Like I said, I'm going to continue to ask questions and try to learn and be a sponge to as many people as I can in the pursuit of what's next.

Steph: Amazing to close it out. I assume we're going to get many more firsts from you. We've gotten them in the past. I'm sure we can expect them in the future. What excites you most about this next chapter of your career?

Meghan: Oh, to be honest, I think it's that I'm a new mom. I just had my son at the end of February. And what excites me most right now in this moment is high quality family time. My family has given me so much. And I I want to give so much back to my family. And I'm excited with all of the challenges and the exciting times ahead with my son and hopefully future children and things like that. And I think in this moment right now, that's that's kind of where my heart is and that's what I'm excited about in the very near future.

Steph: Awesome. Thanks so much, Meghan. Congrats on your new motherhood and congrats on your retirement. It's been such a pleasure to speak with you today. And we're just so happy to have you on The GIST of It podcast.

Meghan: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Steph: All right, GISTers. That was Olympic gold medalist and recently retired U.S. Women's National Hockey Team captain, Meghan Duggan. That's also it from us today. Thanks for listening along. If you want to help us get the word out about the pod, rate us, leave a review and encourage your sport pals to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, or Stitcher.

Ellen: And if you like what you heard today, you have to sign up for our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. You can subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise we'd love to hear from you. You can get in touch with Steph and I over email at pod@thegistsports.com and as we mentioned off the top, hit us up on Twitter. Tweet us at @thegistpod. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. Take care of yourselves and we'll chat with you next week.