With the news that she was leaving her position at Clarkson University as an assistant women’s ice hockey coach to train full-time for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Meghan Duggan simultaneously implied that she wasn’t returning to the Buffalo Beauts.
While nothing official has been put out by Duggan, her representation, or the NWHL, there is little doubt Duggan, who spends her offseason in her home state of Massachusetts, will return to the Bay State with no full-time job keeping her in upstate New York.
What has gone unsaid is that, with Duggan currently 28 years old, the 2018 Olympic Games could be her last.
Older players need more recovery time and more training time to get to a high level of play. Better training at earlier ages mean younger players are nipping at the heels of big names like Duggan, Kelli Stack and Kacey Bellamy. Defender Gigi Marvin, 28, was already left off the U.S.’s short list at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships team in Kamloops; other players in her age bracket are feeling the pressure.
Duggan has to dedicate as much time as possible right now to preparing for 2018 and that likely means a return to the NWHL.
This, however, leaves her with a tough choice. Does she join her national team teammates in Boston, where the roster is so crowded with Olympians one can’t turn around without tripping over a silver medal, or does she head to the Connecticut Whale, who can afford to pay her more?
Last season Olympic players on the Pride topped out at $22,000 while Stack commanded the highest salary in the league at $25,000.
After giving up her salary at Clarkson, an additional $5,000 or $10,000 – or however much more she can command than last season, where she contracted for $22,000 for a full season, meaning she made less than $16,000 after missing 5 games – has to be tempting for Duggan.
Moreover, if she decides to sign with Connecticut she gets the added bonus of playing against the rest of the NWHL, including the Pride, which is a pretty good draw for an athlete committed to playing at the highest level possible over the next year and a half.
Duggan would be a terrific addition to Connecticut’s rebuilding roster. With Sam Faber, Kelly Babstock and Jessica Koizumi the Whale has shown a penchant for signing character players with playmaking abilities.
Duggan brings both of those and proven points production. In only 13 games during the 2015-16 regular season, Duggan put up 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) and 1.23 points per game, the second-highest average on the Beauts, behind only sniping dynamo Kelley Steadman.
On the Whale that would bring Duggan in just behind Stack, who led Connecticut in points per game with 1.29, earned by posting 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists) over the course of 17 games.
Duggan is particularly good at finding a vicious angle on a goalie and scoring off a quick pass from a teammate, as seen below. Duggan and Steadman developed terrific chemistry throughout the inaugural Beauts season; Duggan would find similar success with Olympic teammate Stack or Shiann Darkangelo, the latter a power forward and sniper, much like Steadman.
With the Whale’s move to Northford, Conn., putting it just off Route 91, Duggan’s commute to practice twice a week and home games would be long, but doable.
The one concern for Duggan might come in the form of coaching. Boston head coach Bobby Jay has an edge over Heather Linstad in that he has worked with the U.S. women’s national team at multiple Four Nations Cup events, IIHF Women’s World Championship tournaments, and was an assistant coach at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
He, like Riveters coach Chad Wiseman, played at the NHL and AHL levels. Linstad, though she has held multiple head coach jobs at places like the University of Connecticut and Northeastern University, does not have the same connection to the USA Hockey program as Jay.
A high enough salary, however, might be enough to overcome those worries as Duggan can train with her Olympic team teammates during the week in Boston and play against them on the weekends in Connecticut.