Hockey HOFer Angela Ruggiero always wanted to elevate game – Detroit Free Press
She was in the middle of preparing for it when her cell phone rang. The speech.
It was shortly after 6 p.m. on a recent Thursday, and Angela Ruggiero was about to pursue an enormous challenge, somehow condensing a lifetime of gratitude into a 5-minute speech for Monday night’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction in Toronto.
“I’ve been kind of skimming the different speeches, like Chris Chelios (2013), Mark Messier (2007) and Peter Forsberg (2014),” said Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist for Team USA, who will become the fourth woman inducted. “When Cammi Granato got inducted a few years ago (2010), I was sad that I missed that historical dinner for her. But I’ve been able to read her speech, and Angela James’ and Geraldine Heaney’s â the three women who came before me.”
A California native raised in Harper Woods, Ruggiero, 35, spent more than 15 years as the top defender on the U.S. women’s national team. She helped the U.S. win the first gold medal in women’s hockey at the 1998 Olympics.
Her success in hockey gave her confidence to succeed in academics as well: She graduated cum laude from Harvard and later completed a master’s degree in sports management at Minnesota. In May 2014 â three years after she retired from the national team â she earned her MBA at Harvard.
Currently between jobs and states â she’ll soon be moving back to Boston after working at a hedge-fund management group in Connecticut â Ruggiero travels the globe in her role on the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission. She serves on several other boards, including the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Athletes Council. She’s also past president of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Ruggiero spent an hour with Free Press special writer Jo-Ann Barnas reminiscing about her career. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Question: You were just talking about reading some of the speeches. So you must be thinking about what you’re going to write.
Answer: “Part of the amazing thing about being inducted into the Hall of Fame â I’ve been away from the game, really, for the last four years, so I haven’t really thought about hockey or seen myself as a hockey player. That next phase of Angela’s life, that’s what I’ve really tried to grab a hold of. And this process of getting inducted is having me to pause and made me revisit all of the fond memories and, more importantly, really made me think about all of the people that got me to where I am. Hockey is a team sport, and you rarely have the opportunity to thank people. When you’re interviewed as a player, it’s about the team, or the next game, and you’re not as reflective. Even when you win, it’s not about you. So this is a real interesting and amazing opportunity for me to say, like, ‘Wow. Who throughout my entire career starting at age 7 helped me become the player I was? And all the things I have in my life because of hockey? I’m here because of these people.’ “
Q: I know you can’t list them all, but the inner circle of your inner circle, can you tell me one story about someone who was influential in your career?
A: “You always want to thank your coaches, and for me it started with my youth coach, Scott Plumer. He was one of my original coaches back in California. He went out of his way to make me a part of the team. He was part of the first-ever girls hockey team that ever came out of California. He took me to Canada once. I was the only girl on a team. But he thought it was important for me to be there, and I ended up scoring a bunch of goals.”
Q: How about a Michigan-related story that you haven’t told yet. I remember all of the times I’d hang out at the Olympics with your mom. She was hysterical; she loved watching you play hockey.
A: “I remember when I got elected to the IOC, in Vancouver (at the 2010 Olympics). I couldn’t make the announcement ceremony because it was, literally, during the practice day before the gold-medal game. And they announced it in the village at the Olympics, and my mom screams like I had scored the game-winning goal in the gold-medal game. Everyone was, ‘What the … who is that?’ “
Q: You’re being inducted alongside Red Wings greats Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Federov, along with Peter Karmanos Jr., the Detroit businessman who owned the Plymouth Whalers. Michigan is pretty well-represented.
A: “I remember watching the Wings win (the Stanley Cup) in 1997, the year before the Olympics. I was at that game, and the influence of the Wings and being in a city â Hockeytown â compared to being in California, where my best friends didn’t even know I played hockey or they’d never seen me play at least … I was in a tight-knit community there, and they didn’t know (about hockey), and moving to an environment where if I needed to find ice, I can find ice. The Grosse Pointe Old Devils, I remember they’d bend over backwards to help me. It was this men’s league, and players like (Kirk) Gibson â they supported my brother and I. And they were so sweet. Even those fundraisers that my mom had, all those people coming out to support us so that she and my sister could see me in person at the Olympics. I remember the Mount Clemens Ice Arena, having the opportunity to train there. They let me on their skating treadmill, which at the time no one had, so I got this special training the year before the ’98 Olympics.”
Q: When you look at videos or photos of yourself back when you played, what do you see? How would you describe yourself?
A: “I was fiercely competitive. I always wanted to get better as an individual and as a team. I saw the power in getting everyone on the same page and playing as one unit. I always wanted to elevate the game. I was always, ‘If I could always get a little bit better ….’ “
Jo-Ann Barnas covered seven Olympics for the Detroit Free Press from 1998 to 2012 â including all four of Ruggiero’s appearances.
Non Red Wings going into Hall of Fame this year
Inducted as: Player.
Claim to fame: Ruggiero was the youngest member of the U.S. team that won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey, in 1998. She played in three more Olympics, winning silver in 2002, bronze in ’06 and silver in ’10. She was named the tournament’s top defenseman in 2002 and ’06. She also played in nine world championships, winning silver in 1997 and gold in 2005. She was named that tournament’s top defenseman in 2001, ’04, ’05 and ’08.
Did you know? She was born in Panorama City, Calif., but raised in Harper Woods. She won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in U.S. women’s college hockey as a senior at Harvard. She became the first female non-goaltender to play a pro game in the United States, when she played with her brother Bill on the Tulsa Oilers in the Central Hockey League in 2005. She is only the fourth woman to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Inducted as: Player.
Claim to fame: Housley’s 1,232 NHL points rank first among American-born defensmen â and second among American-born players, period, behind only Mike Modano’s 1,374.
Did you know? Drafted sixth overall by the Sabres in 1982, Housley jumped into the NHL as an 18-year-old. He put up 19 goals and 66 points and finished second in the voting for the Calder Trophy, losing the rookie of the year to the Blackhawks’ Steve Larmer. He produced a whopping 31 goals and 77 points in his second season and continued to pile up points for two decades. He helped the United States win a World Cup in 1996 and an Olympic silver medal in 2002.
Inducted as: Player.
Claim to fame: Pronger led three teams to the Stanley Cup finals, winning the Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valauble player and the Norris Trophy as its best defenseman in 1999-2000.
Did you know? When he won the Norris, he edged out the Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom, who was runner-up for the third straight time. (Lidstrom won his first of seven Norris Trophies the following season.) A tough, intimidating presence, Pronger piled up far more penalty minutes (1,590) than points (698) in his 1,167 NHL games. He helped Team Canada win two gold medals, in 2002 and 2010.
Peter Karmanos Jr.
Inducted as: Builder.
Claim to fame: Karmanos made a major impact at the amateur, junior and pro levels â much of it in Michigan. He co-founded the Compuware youth program and became the first to own an OHL franchise in the United States. His Compuware Ambassadors became the Detroit Junior Red Wings, Detroit Whalers and Plymouth Whalers until he sold them this year. His Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Did you know? Karmanos grew up in Detroit and fell in love with hockey after watching a Red Wings-Canadiens game on television. He graduated from Wayne State.
Inducted as: Builder.
Claim to fame: Hay played at Colorado College, then became the first NCAA product to play regularly in the NHL. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1959-60 and the Stanley Cup in 1961 with the Chicago Black Hawks. But he is being honored for his work as president of the Calgary Flames and Hockey Canada and chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Did you know? Charles Hay, his father, served as president of Hockey Canada, helped create the 1972 Summit Series and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1974. Earl Miller, his uncle, played in the NHL in the 1920s and ’30s.