Meghan Duggan was already a hockey trailblazer. She captained the U.S. women’s team through three Olympic tournaments. She won an Olympic gold medal and seven world championships. She’s an out role model for the LGBTQ+ community who married Canadian player Gillian Apps. Duggan was at the forefront of the U.S. women’s program’s successful fight for fair pay, during which she and her teammates threatened to boycott the 2017 World Championship and leveraged their power to achieve improved wages and conditions for the team.
Now? Add another notch to a belt full of notches. Earlier this week, the New Jersey Devils named Duggan manager of player development. She’s the second woman to earn a prominent role with the franchise, as New Jersey named Kate Madigan its executive director of hockey management and operations in 2020.
“We are incredibly excited to announce that Meghan has joined our player development department,” said Devils executive vice-president and GM Tom Fitzgerald in the team’s press release earlier this week. “As our group has evolved over the past few years to include as much about off-ice as on-ice for development, we believe Meghan will be perfect for this position. Her successful track record as a teammate, leader, captain and driver of initiatives will be resources to all players in our organization. We look forward to her utilizing her perspective of the game, attention to detail and creative thinking to help our players reach their potential.”
Duggan will play a hands-on role monitoring Devils’ player development alongside assistant GM Dan MacKinnon, working with the players on and off the ice, scouting them in person and via video, reporting to the Devils on their progress and organizing all the information on each player. Having worked as an assistant coach at Clarkson University, she gained crucial off-ice experience guiding a group that went to the Frozen Four in 2016.
So how does Duggan, 33, feel about her new gig? What’s it like to be a role model for so many important causes? And what will she be doing day to day for the Devils?. The Hockey News caught up with Duggan this week to find out.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: In the early days of your career, did you always have a sense that you wanted to stay in the game once you retired as a player?
MEGHAN DUGGAN: When I was a kid, I grew up loving and idolizing players in the NHL. I grew up in Boston. Ray Bourque was in my hometown. I was a big Bruins fan and got to go to games as a kid, and that was a huge part of my passion for the sport growing. When I was a kid, I probably thought, “Hey, I’m going to play in the NHL someday,” not understanding how it would evolve as I got older. But I definitely knew, whether it was upon retirement or even earlier, with a couple stints coaching in the NCAA during my playing career, that I always wanted to find a way to continue to have an impact in hockey and to stay close to the game. And upon retiring, for six months or so, I’ve had the time and space to think about what that next step might be in order to start a career on the other side of the bench or off the actual playing field. And that’s what led me here.
THN: Before your playing career ended, you spent two seasons as an assistant coach in the NCAA with Clarkson University and helped the school reach the Frozen Four in 2016. How important was that experience in charting your course as a mentor on the player-development side? What do you take with you from your days there?
DUGGAN: That was a huge step for me for a variety of reasons. One, it was my first opportunity to see the game through a different lens. I had run some camps for kids, but it was my first opportunity at a higher level to see that side of the game. I also had a really great mentor at Clarkson in head coach Matt Desrosiers who challenged me in a lot of ways to grow and gave me different opportunities and allowed me to have value and input right away. That was big for me. I worked on a lot of player development with our girls there, and skill work, special teams, did a lot of scouting and recruiting and video. It was my introduction to all of that. And as I move forward in this job, a lot of those things are going to come into play. So that was a wonderful time period in my life. I truly enjoyed it, and it was that first taste of what hockey can be when you’re not playing. It was a great experience for me.
THN: Obviously, you’re a person who has accomplished a lot of major feats in the sport: Olympic gold, seven world championships, fighting for equal pay in the women’s game and a lot more. Where does getting this new job with the Devils rank for you among all your accomplishments?
DUGGAN: It’s right up there. It’s the next chapter of my life. I learned a lot in my hockey career, and hockey has changed my life in so many ways, so I’m excited to give back, to see the game and be a student of the game in a different way, to experience the game at a different level in the National Hockey League. I’ve never played, never coached, never been involved at that level. Lots to learn and lots to look forward to. It’s definitely right up there. My family and I are really looking forward to being a part of the New Jersey Devils and adding value right away.
THN: Your new position continues a trend in recent seasons of NHL teams hiring women in prominent roles, from Alexandra Mandrycky, Namita Nandakumar and Cammi Granato in Seattle to Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette in Toronto and, of course, to Kate Madigan, your new colleague with the Devils. Do you feel they helped pave the way for your hiring? And did you consult with any of them before taking the job to get perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated NHL?
DUGGAN: First of all, it’s an honor to be a part of this group of women that are starting to penetrate and find space in the National Hockey League. It’s really amazing, and certainly I’ve followed the news in regards to Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette and Kendall Coyne, and obviously with New Jersey, Kate Madigan. She’s been incredible for me to get to know over this last month. I’ve connected with her a lot. She’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to be part of an organization like this. She’s a very powerful woman, she does excellent work, and I’m excited to continue to learn from her.
THN: The Devils press release summarized what your job will entail, but it’s more fun to hear it from you. Can you give us a quick summary of what you’ll be doing as manager of player development?
DUGGAN: In summary, really, it’s a role that affords me a unique opportunity to do a lot, have touch points in a variety of different areas both and off the ice – in the development and operations and dealing with athlete care and our development coaches and management and really just learning and growing in a variety of different areas. I’m going to be reporting directly to Dan MacKinnon who I’ve gotten to know over the last month, and I’m really excited to work with and learn from him. I’m looking forward to, right now, understanding the lay of the land and all the players and where the team is at and where I can add value instantly.
THN: What conversations led you and the Devils to deciding to work together?
DUGGAN: My conversations with the Devils staff and Tom Fitzgerald and Dan MacKinnon and Kate Madigan really came about organically. We connected early on and then grew a relationship through some wonderful conversations, and that’s how the role presented itself. They were getting to know me a little bit better, and I was starting to learn about the organization. And through those discussions, personally, I was excited. For one: think about how much is on the horizon for this young team, this young organization, and being a part of something like that, to me, is incredibly energizing. But also, through our discussions, I just feel like our belief systems and values aligned in a lot of ways. I enjoyed learning about the culture and mindset of the organization, and that’s truly important to me and what I want to be a part of.
THN: Speaking of a young team, is it more fun to join up during the early stage of a rebuild when a team has a lot of young players and clay to mold? As opposed to a veteran-laden roster more set in its identity.
DUGGAN: This is the first team I’m joining in that sense (laughs), but I’m excited. But I’m excited about the organization, where it’s going and how it’s run. There’s a lot of potential, a lot of talent, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it, building relationships and collaborating on how this team can have the most success.
THN: You have a lot of experience being a captain, a coach, working in various leadership roles in hockey. How would you describe your leadership and mentorship styles, and how will you imprint them on the Devils in your role?
DUGGAN: The biggest thing for me is getting to know the people you’re working with. When I was a captain, my teammates, our support staff, our coaching staff, management – it was getting to know everyone, how people work, how you should communicate with people and really building those relationships and that trust. I think that’s how groups operate most efficiently. And that type of mentality allows you to really just respect and honor everyone’s contributions. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing with this group. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds that bring such perspective and diversity of thought. And collaborating together as a team on development aspects is going to be wonderful. That’s how I’ve always led and how I like to work, and that seems like it’s going to be the case here.
THN: You’re a role model to so many different groups. You were an Olympic captain. You played a massive part in securing equal pay rights for women in USA Hockey. You sit on the NHL Player Inclusion Committee. It was reported this week that you are the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to earn a major hockey-operations position in the NHL. Is it important to you to be that role model day to day? Does the weight of that responsibility ever feel stressful?
DUGGAN: It’s a huge part of my life and who I am, and it’s incredibly important to me to represent a variety of different communities. It’s certainly a responsibility, but it’s a privilege at the same time. In regards to being a woman, being a working mom, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, representation matters. For the a lot of my life, I have been doing inclusion work, trying to make hockey more inclusive and diverse and to bring a variety of different personalities and backgrounds into the fold. For the Devils to welcome me into the fold, it shows that’s important to them as well. That speaks volumes to the culture aspect of the Devils and what they value.
THN: There are conflicting schools of thought when discussing major stories of women blazing trails in the men’s game. One would say it’s important to tell these stories because they represent important progress for equality. The other would say that the dream is for these stories “to not be stories,” that women should have enough opportunities that it’s not a rare feat when they’re hired as prominent decision makers in the men’s game. Where do you land on that debate? Do you like the idea that you’re in the news because you’re a woman crossing over to the men’s game? Or do you want the story to simply be that you’re hired for this job because you’re the most qualified, period?
DUGGAN: I’ll say off the hop that I can’t wait until it’s not a story. I can’t wait until years from now when women and people of color and people from a variety of other underrepresented groups in hockey are infiltrating the National Hockey League. That’s to come, and it’s going to be an exciting and big moment for the sport. But at the same time I think, early on, representation is important. Billie Jean King says, “See it, be it.” People being able to see, and visibility being increased of underrepresented groups or women in certain positions, are important to continue to create pipelines, put pressure on organizations to follow suit, to have people understand the importance of mentorship of underrepresented groups. So I would look at it both ways, but I truly can’t wait for a day when it’s not a story.