On Apr. 22, the Clarkson University Athletic Program announced that Meghan Duggan would be stepping down as assistant coach of the women’s hockey team. Duggan and the Golden Knights battled to a 30-5-5 record in the 2015-16 season, and capped off that success with a Frozen Four appearance.
Duggan told the press, “The past two years at Clarkson have been absolutely tremendous. The opportunities that I was given allowed me to learn and grow both as a person and a coach…Although I have made the decision to step away at this time to focus on my own personal playing/training goals, Clarkson will always have a special place in my heart.”
The decsion comes as the NWHL heads toward the final week of restricted free agency. During this period, which began on Apr. 1, teams were to be focused on signing the players who had populated their roster in the league’s inaugural season, as well as their 2015 draft choices.
Only six players have signed so far; the New York Riveters have signed Ashley Johnston, Kiira Dosdall, and Morgan Fritz-Ward, the Buffalo Beauts have signed Paige Harrington, the Connecticut Whale have signed Kelly Babstock, and the Boston Pride have signed Jordan Smelker.
The lack of signings would seem to indicate that players are exercising their right to explore offers from other teams. It is reasonable to speculate that Duggan, who was an alternate captain for the Beauts in the 2015-16 season, may be on the list of these players.
Duggan was the last player to sign to a team in the NWHL and the Beauts were the last team with an opening — the Team USA captain didn’t have the option to play for another team in her first season as a pro.
Despite her absences, she still finished the season with 16 points (6G, 10A). She was a leader for the team on and off of the ice, and developed a strong chemistry with fellow forward Kelley Steadman.
The Beauts had moderate success when Duggan was unable to skate on game day, but fans saw a completely different team with Duggan on the ice. Teams needed to be aware of her at all times; she is a physical force, as well as a skilled puck carrier and a killer shot.
Because of her coaching responsibilities at Clarkson and her time with Team USA, Duggan missed five regular season games and three of the Beauts’ playoff games. Duggan is a native of Danvers, MA, which is a suburb of Boston.
The powerful forward played for the Boston Blades of the CWHL before coming to the NWHL. Many of Duggan’s Team USA teammates were rostered on the NWHL’s Boston Pride last season, and because the Pride were overloaded with talent, they went undefeated in the Isobel Cup playoffs and were the 2015-16 league champions.
In fact, the Clarkson article quoted above contains the verbiage, “…will focus her efforts [on] preparing for the upcoming 2018 XXIII Olympic Winter Games…”
If Duggan’s goal is indeed to best prepare for the Olympics, it makes sense that she would want to do so on a team that offers here the opportunity to do it with her national team teammates. While defensemen Emily Pfalzer and Megan Bozek joined Duggan on the Beauts, it seems logical that Duggan would like the chance to play with Team USA’s forwards and develop chemistry with them, which means she may not have a desire to re-sign with the Beauts.
For a league that sorely lacked parity in it’s first year, this is either a blessing or a curse.
If Boston is able to make room for yet another National Team player, it could spell disaster for the remaining teams in the league. It could also be that some of the Team USA players will join Kelli Stack on the Whale, which is the shortest commute from Boston, where many of the National Team players reside.
Unrestricted free agency begins May 1, and things may begin to be more clear as teams navigate this period. With only five players signed, there are still 87 spots available for rostered players and practice squads. Duggan’s resignation from her coaching duties opens up a world of possibilities for her, and it’s likely that she’ll explore all of them before making a final decison.