There were probably only three or four dozen people who really knew what this one meant to Meghan Duggan.
Her two families -- those she shares her last name with and the women she plays hockey with -- certainly understood. So did her close friends, coaches and the doctors who had helped get her back to being ... well, Meghan Duggan.
So when the final horn sounded in Ottawa Tuesday night and the United States had defeated their bitter rivals from Canada, 3-2, for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Championship, feelings of elation and happiness, satisfaction and relief washed over Duggan like a waterfall.
It was not the first time the Danvers native has won gold (or the equivalent thereof), and it probably won’t be the last. But given the injuries she’s battled, the wondering when (and if) she’d play again and the countless hours she put in just to get back on the ice, it might just be one of, if not the, most meaningful.
“I’ve battled through so much just to be here,” said the 25-year-old Duggan, who suffered a serious concussion in December 2011 that had her out of action for more than six months, then developed complications from that concussion last November. Only within the last two months has she been back and sympton-free, feeling more and more like herself on skates.
“It was obviously an injury you can’t fool around with. I had a pretty low period; you wonder can I still play? How will this injury affect me? I was out of commission for a long time with a troubling injury, and there were definitely points (when) I wondered if I’d play again.
“That’s why,” added the 5-foot-9 power forward, “this win was so important to me.”
The 2010 U.S. Olympian -- who’ll head back to Lake Placid, N.Y. for the start of tryouts for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia in June -- was back in the Bay State less than 24 hours after helping the Red, White and Blue win the world championship. It was the end of a whirlwind few weeks for Duggan, who had gone directly from helping her Boston Blades team win the Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship to Lake Placid for development camp and then back to Canada for worlds.
“I feel like I got hit by a train. I need a few days to rest and decompress,” Duggan, an assistant captain for the U.S. team, said with a chuckle. “We played four (CWHL) games in four days, and I took a beating. It’s good finally be home ... and even better with a gold medal.”
Skating a wing with veteran teammates Hilary Knight and team captain Julie Chu, Duggan didn’t have to score to be effective; she had but one point in the tournament. Rather, she was immense in the areas that don’t show up on the final stat sheet -- chipping the puck out of trouble, lifting sticks to prevent passes from being completed, winning 50/50 battles along the wall, and just being a physical presence at all times -- that earned her constant praise.
“I’ve always prided myself on being a two-way player and doing any little thing necessary to win a championship,” said the 2011 Patty Kazmaier winner out of Wisconsin, given to the best player in NCAA women’s hockey. “We were so well coached ; they kept telling us we were 23 pieces to a puzzle, and (in Tuesday’s title game) all 23 pieces, plus the coaches, worked perfectly. It was one of the best national team games I’ve ever been involved in.”
It probably wouldn’t have been the case for Duggan if a certain sequence of events hadn’t happened late in 2012.
She had trained all last summer coming back from her concussion and played last October and November in Europe before signs of the concussion started creeping back. Duggan knew she had come back too soon and needed to get this taken care of once and for all.
She got the answers she was looking for in Marietta, Ga., where Dr. Frederick Carrick -- the same chiropractic neurologist who helped get Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby back on the ice after his own concussion issues -- worked with her through intense neurological therapy and vision training at Life University. “Basically, it’s rehab for your brain,” said Duggan.
The difficult thing in dealing with a brain injury is that less is sometimes more in the recovery process -- something that was admittedly hard for Duggan to adapt to. But once she got the green light to proceed with her workouts, there was no stopping her. A terrific program in Boston and “training and training and training and training” with renowned strength coach Mike Boyle left Duggan feeling better physically than she ever had.
So now, with another gold medal for her trophy shelf and Olympic tryouts on the not-so-distant horizon, Duggan is going to enjoy a true rarity in her life: five to seven days of downtime.
“I’ll probably head to my parents’ house in Danvers and hit up the hot tub,” she laughed. “My body needs time to rest up before it’s time to do it all over again.”