The framed set of photos on a wall of a meeting room inside the sprawling Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota, drew a long look.
The images showed the dedication ceremony for the USA Hockey women’s national team training facilities there eight years ago. The onlooker spent a few minutes studying the faces, the clothes, the footwear — everything that seemed so distant yet such a familiar memory.
“It’s hilarious,” Meghan Duggan said. “Oh, my gosh, what a long time ago.”
Back then, Duggan’s career was still in the process of taking off. She had two national championship rings from the University of Wisconsin and had played in three World Championships, but she was one of the youngsters on the Olympic team.
Could it really be eight years since that first Olympic camp?
“I actually just had my 30th birthday back in September, and I’m like, man, I’m getting old,” Duggan said with a laugh. “I’ve been doing this a long time. But I’m so invested and I love it so much.”
When the Olympic women’s hockey tournament opens on Sunday in Gangneung, South Korea, the former Badgers forward will become only the second two-time U.S. team captain.
Duggan, once a leader of the new generation of U.S. women’s hockey players, now is a veteran voice passing along acquired wisdom in her third Olympics.
When Duggan was photographed in the picture now on the wall in Blaine, she was looking up to the team’s established stars: Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell, Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu.
“To be in a position where we can help share lessons or almost feed forward, for lack of a better term, to the younger players on our team that are coming up in the program and are the future of this program, we take a lot of pride in that,” Duggan said. “I’ve dedicated my life to this program, and I want to see it flourish years beyond when I’m done playing.”
The same could be said of her time with the Badgers.
After the 2010 Games, Duggan returned for her senior season to win the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award as the Division I women’s hockey top player along with her third NCAA title. She’s third on the Badgers’ all-time scoring list behind U.S. Olympic teammates Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker.
Goaltender Alex Rigsby is a fourth former UW player on this year’s Olympic team.
“It’s a dynasty of a program that I’m just happy to have been a part of,” Duggan said.
The other two-time U.S. captain was Cammi Granato, who led the Americans to gold in the debut 1998 tournament and silver four years later.
As both a young player and in the captain’s role, Duggan said she has thought of the phrase, “What would Cammi do?” for direction.
Having Granato speak to the team during this season’s centralization was a highlight for Duggan.
“How did she lead the team back then? How did they win a gold medal? What type of culture did she create in that locker room as a captain that allowed them to win a gold medal? I’ve had those thoughts a lot,” Duggan said.
“And to have the opportunity to meet her in person, shake her hand and pick her brain a little bit and get some advice was really special to our team. I know it was a couple days that we’ll never forget.”
Thoughts of the 1998 gold medal bring up the fact the U.S. hasn’t returned to the top step on the podium in the past four Olympics, something Duggan said she has been made aware of “thousands of times.”
In Sochi, Russia, four years ago, the U.S. had a two-goal lead with 3½ minutes remaining in the gold-medal game before Canada rallied to win in overtime.
The Americans have won eight of the past 10 World Championships held during non-Olympic years — including seven of eight during Duggan’s tenure on the team — but the biggest prize has been elusive.
It makes the upcoming Games a critical point for the women’s national team.
A year ago, Duggan was the de facto spokesperson for U.S. players who were planning to boycott the World Championship in a wage dispute with USA Hockey. The players gained a victory there — they’re now paid outside of the Olympic training period and gained other benefits — and then made it a clean sweep of world titles since Sochi.
Olympic gold would complete the cycle and put to rest the nagging reminders of past shortfalls for Duggan and USA Hockey.
“You have to look yourself in the mirror as an individual, as a program, and say why? Why did that happen?” Duggan said. “What do we need to do, and how can we be better? And the last three and a half years, we’ve been answering those questions.
“We’ve been looking at ourselves in the mirror, trying to figure out why didn’t it work and what can we do to build a better culture and to be a better team and be that team that we want to be to win a gold medal. We’ve really built something that’s incredibly special and I’m certainly proud to be a part of. I think this is the right group.”