A Night When Women’s Hockey Was The Real Winner

Olympic Champions Continue To Have An Icy Impact On The Game

BOSTON — The past, present and future came together on the ice Wednesday at Boston University's Agganis Arena for what turned out to be a special night for women’s hockey.

And while the U.S. Women’s National Team fell short against their Canadian rivals in the opening game of The Time Is Now Tour, presented by Toyota, the real winner on this night was the sport itself.

It was a reminder of the power of dreams and how they can give a young girl from Danvers, Mass., the license to shoot for the stars and accomplish things that few before her ever had the opportunity to achieve.

“When I think back to watching the 1998 team, I think about meeting Gretchen Ulion and having the opportunity to put her jersey on and wear her gold medal. It changed my life. It changed the path I chose, the schools I attended and the cities I lived in. It’s why I’m standing where I am today,” recalled Meghan Duggan, who is looking to make her third U.S. Women’s Olympic Team.

“So to have the parallel of us now being in those shoes and being able to give those dreams to those younger girls out there, it fills my heart. It’s a big reason why we all do this. Sure, we want to play on the world stage and win a gold medal, but this team is a pretty powerful group that wants to change the world and change the game and inspire others to dream big.”

To acknowledge their impact on the game, members of that 1998 team were honored here tonight by a sellout crowd that included so many young players who weren’t even born when they won the inaugural Olympic tournament in Nagano, Japan.

“At the end of the day it’s cyclical,” said Sue Merz, one of those 13 players who reunited in Boston. “I look at the women who came before us, players like Cindy Curley and Kelly Dyer, they paved the way for us and didn’t get this chance to experience this. I look at our opportunity in ’98 as what it was, and we capitalized on it. I know it made an impression on a fair number of athletes who are playing hockey today.”

Even 20 years later, most of these women look like they could still lace up the skates and compete for Olympic gold. But instead they are happy to look back on what they accomplished collectively and how great it would be to see this year’s team take the sport to even greater heights.

“I know we made an impression on these women and because it’s so much bigger now than it was even 20 years ago, these women are going to have an even bigger impression on the next generation of girls’ hockey, and sports in general,” Merz said.

“We made the point of coming here tonight and representing our sport because at the end of the day we’re all for the same team. So we’re hoping these guys win the gold in February, and it’s going to continue to grow from there.”

Many of these women continue to have an impact on the game, whether it’s as a mom whose kids are now playing hockey or following the lead of their long-time coach and mentor Ben Smith, who will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame back here in Boston in mid-December.

“My daughter just started Learn to Play and she’s getting into it. She’s 4 and loves it,” said Katie King, who is in her 10th season coaching the powerhouse women’s program at Boston College. “I think the whole thing has grown so much and seeing so many girls starting at such a young age is amazing. The number of girls teams has just escalated so much and it’s fun to see.”

And it was fun to see the growth of the women’s game on full display on this rainy night in Boston, both in terms of the young girls decked out in the colors of their local teams, or the lucky few who hit the ice earlier in the day.

Over the course of an hour, 87 girls between the ages of 8 and 12 years of age took part in a the station-based practice under the direction of Kristen Wright, USA Hockey’s manager of girls’ development, and ADM Regional Manager Roger Grillo, who were joined by members of the Boston University women’s team. The result was an afternoon of fun that will fuel the competitive juices of the next generation of hockey players.

The long day ended well after hours with members of this year’s team of Olympic hopefuls signing autographs and posing for photos with every girl who waited in a line that snaked around the arena concourse.

Despite not achieving the outcome they were looking for, particularly on home ice and in front of so many diehard fans, these players happily signed tour posters and smiled for selfies, just as their predecessors did for them.

“Your job in addition to being a player is to be a great role model,” said veteran defenseman Kacey Bellamy who grew up in Westfield, Mass.

 

“So whatever we can do for the little girls coming to our games, whether it’s signing autographs or making a lasting impression, it really goes a long way and gives them dreams that are going to stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

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