Team USA defenseman and leader Angela Ruggerio announced her retirement Dec. 28
by Jason Olson
Another intense week of training and practice for the U.S. Women’s National hockey team at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine was marked by the announcement of Angela Ruggerio’s retirement after 16 years.
The four-time Olympian and one of the sport’s all-time greats made her intentions official during a meeting after practice at the Schwan Center Dec. 28.
“It was a relatively early or recent decision for me,” Ruggerio said during a press conference Dec. 28.
Ruggerio, 31, began to consider retirement two months ago, but didn’t make the final decision until three weeks ago. She alerted national team coach Katey Stone in her office at Harvard University.
Ruggerio flew into Blaine to tell the team personally along with Stone, who also coached her at Harvard.
“I wanted to tell them face-to-face and they were a little shocked and I feel bad about it,” Ruggerio said. “It’s been an extremely difficult decision and I didn’t come to it very lightly. Through my whole career I didn’t want to have any regrets. And this is a time in my life I need to listen and I’m in a place where I’m ready for that next phase, my second career, as I call it.”
That second career begins with some hefty responsibilities with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Being elected to the IOC was such an honor and at the same time such a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I want to make sure I’m representing the athletes of the world and the U.S. to promote sport at a global level, including women’s hockey,” she said.
As a member of the United States Olympic Committee, she was elected to an eight-year term as a member of the IOC Athletes Commission in 2010. The commission serves as the link between active athletes and the IOC. She was also appointed to the IOC Evaluation Commission to evaluate proposed cities for the 2018 Olympic Games and is a member of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the IOC Entourage Commission.
Just because Ruggerio isn’t going to skate for the women’s national team doesn’t mean she’s going to be any less busy.
“I can have a voice for the athletes and in order to do that you have to travel,” she said. “Overall, the goal is to live up to the responsibility and to represent the U.S., it’s in my blood.”
Coaching seems to be part of her plans for the future, but not at the major collegiate or national-level just yet. “I have my hockey camps in the summer, but I’m looking to get a real job or go to business school for my next career,” Ruggerio said.
Ruggerio had shoulder surgery to fix a decade-old torn labrum after Vancouver and re-injured the shoulder just before the World Championships in April.
According to Team USA teammate and Warroad-native Gigi Marvin, it takes a special talent to consistently perform at the highest level because of the physical toll on the body.
“I’m not sure it was a one-time thing for Ang or if it was all these years of constant pressure and strain,” Marvin said.
Ruggerio, along with Julie Chu and Jenny Potter, continue to play at such a high level because they take care of themselves, she said.
“Anytime someone retires who has been a mainstay of a program for 16 years always comes as bit of a shock,” said Chu, a longtime friend and teammate, between practice sessions in Blaine Dec. 29, a day after hearing the news for the first time.
“We all at the end of the day want to go out on our own terms,” Chu said. “But at the same time I think her being able to come and talk with all of us [Dec. 28] to get her last thoughts and share it in person instead of learning about it in the media was a nice personal touch, especially given just how long she’s been part of the program. She’s had a lot to share and a lot to be able to contribute and she’s seen the development of women’s hockey at the national team level.”
Chu and Ruggerio’s hockey connection goes back to growing up on the rinks in Connecticut when Chu was 12 and Ruggerio was 14 on the same Connecticut Polar Bears. They also played together at Harvard for two seasons.
Ruggerio’s 256 games is a record for any Team USA player and she finishes her career with 208 points, 141 assists and 67 goals.
“I feel honored and privileged to have represented the USA program over the past 16 years,” Ruggerio said through a press release from USA Hockey. “USA Hockey will always be a part of me and I will cherish the experience and memories with this team. Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way. I am looking forward to my next career, as well as continuing my work representing the athletes of the world through my roles on the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee.”
Ruggerio wore the national team uniform for the first time at the Pacific Women’s Hockey Championships in Canada in early 1996 as a 16-year-old.
She was the youngest player on the gold medal winners in 1998 as an 18-year-old and was named the tournament’s top defenseman in 2002. She tied for the lead among tournament defensemen in 2006 with six points (four assists) and was named to the media all-star team while Team USA earned a silver medal in 2010.
She was named the top-ranked female hockey player in the world by The Hockey News in 2003 and represented Team USA in 10 IIHF Women’s World Championships. She scored the shoot-out goal which gave the U.S. its first gold medal in the IIHF Women’s World Championship and was the tournament’s top defenseman four times.
When asked about a career-defining moment, that came early on as an 18-year old, Ruggerio said. “Winning the gold in the Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport,” she said. “It’s one reason I’m able to walk away from our sport. I got to stand on the podium and hear our national anthem. What I told the team Wednesday was I’m convinced they’ll do it in Sochi.”
She graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in government and earned a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Minnesota in 2011.
Marvin, among the all-time scorers for the Gophers, was one of 16 Olympic rookies at the 2010 Vancouver games. “She was one of the oldest players on the team, yet she came to the rink with the same enthusiasm as us rookies had,” Marvin said.
“Ang is such a fierce competitor and she brings such a passion for the game. It was contagious. She loves the game and loves competing and I don’t think there is anyone who has seen her play or played with or against her that can’t say she doesn’t love the game or doesn’t show up every day. She’s a gamer.”
Maple Leaf rivals
No doubt national pride helped fuel what has grown into a healthy and respectful rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian hockey teams.
According to Ruggerio, the tension between the national teams has subsided a bit since players from both countries are joining forces at the college level. “But having half of the scholarships in the U.S. going to Canadians and as a result you have a lot more cross-meshing,” Ruggerio said. “I don’t know if it was ever a ‘cold war’ but it was a great rivalry. We both knew if we’re going to win [a tournament] we would have to beat the other to do so.”
The U.S. held a 2-1 advantage over the Canadians in championship games in 2011 after winning a third straight World Championship in April by a 4-3 score in overtime and the Four Nations Cup with a 4-3 shoot-out win in November. The lone defeat came at the first 12 Nations Cup in August/September when Canada handed the U.S. a 4-3 shoot-out loss.
Growth of the game
Ruggerio has seen the sport grow to new heights over the last 16 years. “The quality has definitely risen,” she said.
The NCAA has created even more opportunities for the best U.S., Canadian and European players to improve their games while working toward a degree, Ruggerio said.
“The rise of the college game also helped keep the game alive at a national level during non-Olympic years,” she said. “You’re more likely to have better athletes come out of a bigger population [playing the game].”
An estimated 5,000 girls were playing hockey in the U.S. in 1990 compared with 60,000 today.
But current IOC President Jaques Rogge said at the Vancouver 2010 games that without more competitive balance its inclusion in future Olympics would be in jeopardy.
Ruggerio said she welcomed the comments because it brought the need to grow hockey to the forefront.
“At the global level I hope that continues to occur and right now it’s societal issues that hinder the growth in Russia and Europe,” she said. “I just hope some of the other countries elevate so the gap closes.”
“I couldn’t be more thrilled because what I think it did was nudge the International Hockey Federation to step up to the plate and do more to support our game,” she said. “It hired the first female director and put significant money behind developing teams in other nations. I’m absolutely happy he could say something and the world listened.” [smooth=id:450]