Friday, August 7, 2015
There was a time not so long ago that it would have seemed impossible that the Hockey Hall of Fame would ever enshrine someone who was born in sunny California.
And you certainly never would have guessed that player would be a woman.
But in the year 2015 that is exactly what happened, as the Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes Angela Ruggiero to hockey's highest honour.
Ruggiero took to the game early, and it was obvious she had real potential. Her brother really enjoyed the game, too. So the whole family moved to Michigan in 1996. The move was actually more to benefit her brother's career. It resulted in the kid sister having one of the most successful careers in hockey history.
"I grew up loving hockey and my family loves hockey," said Ruggiero "Fortunately, I found hockey at a very young age when I was 7 when there wasn't a lot of it in the state of California. … My family moved to Michigan in 1996 for my brother's hockey. My brother and I would train in the summertime. We'd go to different rinks, wherever we could find ice and join summer leagues. Because hockey was so popular in Detroit relative to California, I think I really benefitted."
She certainly did. She was a key member of the United States women's team that won the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. She was just 18, still in prep school, and competing at the Olympics. She was well on her way to becoming the most dominant defender in the women's game, and arguably the top female player in the world.
"I was able to compete in my first [Olympic] team in 1998 and just loved the 15 years I got to spend with USA Hockey," she said. "I grew as a person, I learned so many things through hockey, and can't say enough about the opportunity I had because I wore that sweater for so long."
Ruggiero's accomplishments include four Olympic medals silver medals in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics and a bronze in 2006. She also won four gold medals at the World Championships, including in 2005 when she scored the game winning goal in the dramatic shootout.
"I feel so blessed to have grown up at the right moment. When I started playing, there were no girls in the state, no Olympics," Ruggiero said. "I didn't even know women's hockey existed at the collegiate level being from California, so I could have never imagined that I'd get to do all the things I got to do in hockey.
"But am very cognizant that if I had been born 10 years prior, I may not have had all these wonderful opportunities in life."
Ruggiero also played at Harvard (she graduated cum laude with a degree in government) and won the national championship in 1999. Her 96 goals and 253 points in her college career are a school record for defensemen.
In 2005 she joined her brother Bill for one game with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League. In doing so she became the first female skater (not including goalies) to compete in a men's professional hockey league in North America.
Hockey has opened all sorts of opportunities for Ruggiero.
"The last few months have been amazing. … It's been a whirlwind," she said. "You start playing hockey as a kid because you love the sport … so all this stuff is sort of icing. I didn't start playing hockey so I could be in the Hall of Fame and now the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. It's just a tremendous, tremendous honor."