BY ETHAN FORMAN
DANVERS — With two Olympic silver medals around her neck, U.S. women’s hockey star Meghan Duggan arrived at Danvers High Saturday on the back of a firetruck with its sirens blaring for a rally in her honor.
Duggan captained the team during its nearly successful run for a gold medal in the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, last month.
While the U.S. team fell to Canada 3-2 in the final game with a “heartbreaking” overtime loss, it was Capt. Duggan who provided the initial spark for her team, scoring the first goal of the game. Many in town, including a core group of several families that had grown up with her, rooted hard for Duggan, gathering at a local pub on Route 1 to watch the final. Many were at the rally Saturday.
After climbing off the ladder truck, Duggan greeted the crowd, kneeling to take pictures with kids, letting others hold the heavy medals from the Vancouver and Sochi Olympic games.
Her mother, Mary, her father, Robert, her sister, Katelyn, and her brother, Bryan, a talented hockey player growing up, were there, along with aunts, uncles and cousins.
While the crowd wanted to show its appreciation for Duggan, she turned the tables on these well-wishers.
“I can’t thank you guys enough for all your support and everything this town has done for me since I was your guys’ age,” she said to a group of kids standing at the front of the crowd near the podium set up in Vye Gym in the high school.
“It’s very special to see all these people come out,” Katelyn Duggan said later. “They want to meet my little sister. She’s a celebrity to them. It’s incredible the support she has from this town and these people. It’s amazing to see all these kids that come out.”
“Thank you, Meghan, for giving kids, the children of Danvers, a reason for hope and belief, also for putting a positive light on the town of Danvers at a time when we could all use it,” said Cheryl Marshall, the former program manager for the Recreation Department and a close family friend.
“She’s not here today because she wants to show off,” said Marshall, Duggan’s former baby sitter, “she’s here today because she wants to thank every one of you.”
Duggan thanked her large circle of family and friends, called “Team Duggan,” the Danvers Recreation Department, local businesses, youth hockey coaches, the Danvers High hockey team and other supporters.
Her parents traveled to Sochi to watch her play, but her mother could barely watch the final game from the stands of the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
“I’ve watched enough hockey; I’m never comfortable with a hockey score until the final buzzer,” Mary Duggan said. She said it has been an amazing experience getting to know members of the team, who have visited the Duggan family in Danvers and who have become an extended family.
“I am so proud. I couldn’t be prouder,” Mary Duggan said. “And you know, she will never forget her roots. She will never forget where she came from.”
When Duggan recalled how she was rehashing the Olympics with her family the night before, she choked up. She recalled how a “random fan” had captured a picture of her walking out on the ice for the final game, grabbing the crest on the national team jersey.
“Wearing the “C” on my jersey,” Duggan said, “I was so proud to carry my team there. No one knew it but me, but in that moment, I was ready to go out and tackle this gold-medal game. I grabbed the crest of my jersey, and I looked down at it, and just said, you know what, I am so proud to be from this town of Danvers, I am so proud to be from the state of Massachusetts, and I am so proud to be American.”
Being an Olympic hockey player also meant sacrifice, lots of training, missed holidays and family occasions, being away from those she loved.
“The honor to put on this jersey with my country’s colors and say so proudly that I am from Danvers, Massachusetts, you guys have no idea how incredible that is,” Duggan said to applause.
The loss to Canada did not diminish her team’s accomplishments, she said.
“It was a heartbreaking ending for us, and anyone that watched the game, you could see. I thought we had it. I thought I would be bringing gold back to Danvers, and we ended up, you know, pucks bounce a certain way, and things don’t happen the way you want them.”
“It’s OK,” shouted someone in the crowd.
“I said to a thousand people, ‘I am so proud of my team; I am so proud of the way that we played.’ I don’t think we could have asked for a better hockey game for you to watch, to be honest,” Duggan said.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, fresh from the dedication of the newly renovated Danvers High, presented Duggan with a joint citation from the state House and Senate, with Speliotis saying he rarely gives anyone such an honor two times.
“This is our day; this is not your day,” Speliotis said to laughs as he addressed Duggan. “You can share it.”
“I just want to tell you how proud our nation is, our commonwealth, but especially the town of Danvers,” Lovely said to roars from the crowd. “I’ve never been this close to an Olympian, and I just think it’s just so terrific. Congratulations.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.