It was a rare occasion when a gold medal was something of a consolation prize for the U.S. women’s hockey team.
Team USA’s 7-5 victory over archrival Canada last weekend in the finale of the women’s world hockey championships triggered the usual celebrations of hugging, hollering and taking selfies on the ice at Malmo, Sweden. It was the fifth triumph for the U.S. women in the last six world tournaments, capping a dominant performance. And yet, there was a bittersweet element to the victory, which came just over a year after the U.S. women lost to Canada in the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics.
"It was fantastic. After an upsetting Olympics for us, this was the next major tournament, and it obviously felt good to be on top and win the gold medal," standout forward and team captain Meghan Duggan said in a phone interview Monday.
"I don’t know if anything can ever make up for a loss in a final game at the Olympics, but I think with our program and where we’re at right now, we just have been focusing on moving forward and taking things tournament by tournament, year by year, and right now we were successful at the task at hand."
The world championships were the last major tournament of the women’s season, but the sport has continued to generate news.
The formation of a new women’s professional league, the National Women’s Hockey League, was recently announced, with the feature that it will pay players. The league is scheduled to play its first games in October, with teams in Long Island, New York; Boston; Connecticut and Buffalo. The existing Canadian Women’s Hockey League, in which Duggan plays for the champion Boston Blades, is a centrally funded league in which players aren't paid. Teams are located in Boston and the Canadian cities of Brampton, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto.
Duggan, a native of Danvers, Mass., and a two-time Olympic silver medalist, said she hasn’t had time to gather information on the new league but figured any publicity for women’s hockey is good publicity.
"And I think this new league coming out and saying it’s going to pay the players is excellent, because that would be something we don’t have right now with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, that’s already in place,” she said. “I think it’s great. Whether competition between the two leagues is going to be a good thing or a bad thing, whether they’re both going to be able to survive, I don’t know….
"We talked when we landed. In the next couple of weeks or so we said we need to have a conference call among some of us American players that have been playing in the other league and just figure out what we want to do, what our agents are saying, what the best path is and kind of go from there.”
Like other players who are past their college years, Duggan, 27, has had to work full-time to support herself while training to retain her place on Team USA. She took a job as an assistant coach of the Clarkson University women’s hockey team in Potsdam, N.Y., while also playing for her Boston CWHL team. Several NHL teams have offered marketing and promotional assistance to CWHL teams, but the players aren’t getting paychecks.
"I had hours and hours of work to do as an assistant coach in addition to training, my off-ice training, and traveling for the team back home. It was busy to say the least, but that’s how I had to support myself,” she said. “It was something I wanted to do professionally just to grow a little bit, in addition to my training, but also financially something that I needed to do as well.
"I’m not the only one. We’ve had girls that are juggling full-time jobs while they’re training. Some have part-time jobs and some take on odd jobs here and there. It’s the reality of our situation. It’s certainly something I would like to see improve in the future, but at this point it’s just what we know."