At the age of 10, Meghan Duggan set a goal for herself – to go to the Olympic Games and captain the United States to a gold medal.

In 2018, she accomplished just that as the Americans defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout to win Olympic gold.  

Duggan recently visited Humber College to speak to Sport Management, Sport Business Management and Recreation and Leisure Services students. Duggan, a three-time Olympian who’s currently the director of player development with the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New Jersey Devils, was there for the College’s annual Leadership Camp when she shared the story about what inspired her as a child and how it shaped her life.

A person sitting in a chair speaks while moving their hands.

As a youth, Duggan loved sports but was particularly fond of hockey. She was 10 in 1998, the first year that women’s hockey was included in the Olympics. She watched all the games, even with the time difference as they were held in Japan, and was thrilled when the United States won gold.  

One of the players came to an event in her hometown and Duggan got to put on her jersey and gold medal. From that moment on, Duggan's goal was to captain her country to Olympic gold.

Reaching the ultimate goal

However, her journey was filled with ups and downs and moments of doubt that Duggan was able to overcome to reach the ultimate goal.

As she told the students, it took her roughly 20 years from that moment as a 10-year-old to achieve her goal.  

In 2010 at her first Olympics, the United States lost to Canada in the gold medal game. It was a devastating loss for Duggan as her first chance at winning gold fell short.

By the 2014 Olympics, she had been named captain and was full of confidence heading into her second Games. The Americans had been up late in the game, but the Canadians rallied to force overtime, which they won.

“At the time, it was the most difficult thing I had been through in my life,” said Duggan, who took the summer off and thought about quitting the sport.

However, a meeting with a coach changed her perspective. The coach asked if she and the team had done everything they could to win. Duggan’s initial response was that they had but upon further reflection, she realized that they hadn’t.

It led to a complete revamp of the team’s approach – from on-ice tactics to film study to many other aspects of preparation. It was a challenging time to be a captain as she was trying to get everyone to buy in so they could achieve the goal that had been elusive to that point.

“I was questioning myself and how I was leading and I was having my leadership challenged at times, but I kept the goal in focus,” said Duggan. “It wasn’t about me or the other players or the coaches – it was about our shared goal and doing what we thought would get us there.”

Ultimately, the changes were successful as Duggan and the U.S. team captured gold at the 2018 Olympics.

‘Open doors for others’

So, how did she lead effectively? It wasn’t easy but Duggan embraced several ideals – she was focused on the mission, led by example and created an environment that was open to collaboration and discussion so everyone felt their voice was being heard.

Duggan also showed her leadership as she helped spearhead the fight for gender equitable treatment for the U.S. women’s national team just prior to the start of the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in the United States where she and her teammates refused to go until a contract addressing the team’s issues was resolved with a four-year deal. She played a central role with their lawyers and other team leaders in securing this agreement, which has subsequently continued beyond her playing career with further agreements.

Two people sit in chairs while looking out towards the audience inside an auditorium.

Following her retirement, Duggan wanted to stay involved with the game and found a home with the New Jersey Devils. It’s her understanding that she’s the first openly gay woman hired in a hockey operations role with an NHL team.

“I’ve always wanted to trailblaze and open doors for others,” said Duggan. “If I can be a role model for gay women who want to work in the NHL, let’s do it!”

Find out more about Humber’s sport programs by visiting the Sport, Recreation and Leisure webpage.