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Meghan Duggan, U.S. Olympic champion hockey team captain, retires

Meghan Duggan, captain of the 2018 U.S. Olympic champion hockey team, announced her retirement on Tuesday, ending the playing career of one of sport’s great leaders.

“Why now? It was a gut feeling,” she said. “It was the right decision for myself and for my family. I’m someone that has lived a lot of my life and has played a lot of my career based on heart and soul and how I feel and what’s going on in my mind, and that’s what led me to my decision right now.”

Duggan, a three-time Olympian, is the only man or woman to captain both NCAA champion and Olympic champion hockey teams.

She is the first player from the 2018 Olympic team to announce her retirement, leading a special group that claimed the first U.S. Olympic hockey title since women’s hockey debuted at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

“It’s the absolute greatest honor in the world for our team,” Duggan told NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire moments after walking off the ice after the PyeongChang final shootout, what turned out to be her last game. “We wanted to bring this back to our country, not for ourselves even, but just for everyone. Everyone that stood behind us. The ’98 team that’s been cheering us on since then.”

Duggan debuted with the national team in 2007 as a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin freshman. She played on seven world championship teams among 144 total games and was captain from late 2013 through PyeongChang.

Duggan and Cammi Granato are the only women to captain multiple U.S. Olympic teams. Duggan’s Olympic dream was hatched in 1998, when she watched Granato and the U.S. women win gold, then later wore fellow New Englander Gretchen Ulion‘s medal around her neck and jersey over her shoulders.

“I compare [Duggan] to the way Abby Wambach was looked at on the national team for soccer,” said Brianna Decker, a teammate at Wisconsin and at the last two Olympics. “You look at quarterbacks in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, they gather so much respect from their teammates. I personally just think that Meghan brings that. We respected her so much as she led our team to a gold medal.”

ON HER TURF: Duggan’s legacy about more than Olympic medals

Duggan, who married retired Canadian forward Gillian Apps in 2018 and had son George on Feb. 29, told teammates her decision to retire in the summer, some in individual calls.

“Obviously, it’s emotional,” Decker said. “When I first talked to her, I said congrats because, obviously, it’s a big turning point in someone’s life, but at the same time she did nothing but leave this program way better than when she came in.”

Duggan joined a program in 2007 that was a year removed from a stunning Olympic semifinal loss to Sweden -- still the only time the U.S. failed to reach the final of an Olympics or world championship.

She became known in part for her grandfather’s old-school automobile -- a Mercury, three-time Olympian Kacey Bellamy believes -- that she drove while the team centralized before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Duggan, Bellamy, twins Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Erika Lawler and Kelli Stack lived together in a Blaine, Minn., home a mile from the rink.

“Take turns filling it up because that was the only car we had,” Bellamy said.

As the years and victories went on, Duggan was defined by a lead-by-example work ethic. She could play with anybody, embraced any role and put the team first. “One of those natural leaders,” Katey Stone, the U.S. head coach when Duggan became captain in 2013, said then.

“She’s gritty,” said Hilary Knight, a teammate for more than a decade between Wisconsin and the national team. “She gets in people’s faces. She plays with a chip on your shoulder. That’s really what you want out of a teammate is knowing that when you go into the corner, they’re going to do everything they can to win that battle and the 50-50 puck.”

Duggan experienced heartbreak in 2010 and 2014, part of silver-medal-winning Olympic teams that lost finals to Canada.

In between, she was out of competition for 10 months after colliding with a teammate in a December 2011 practice. She called it her rock bottom.

“There was a long period of time where I was scared I’d never play again,” Duggan said after returning. “I was just trying to get myself to be able to leave my dark room and walk to the kitchen, where there are lights and get food and go outside and not have to wear sunglasses or be able to take my earplugs out or anything.”

In 2017, Duggan was one of the leaders of the U.S. team’s fight for gender equity. Knight said Duggan was pivotal in a wage dispute before that spring’s world championship. At one point, Duggan received a phone call from Billie Jean King.

"[Duggan] was the voice with the lawyers and to the team as a whole and making sure that everyone was on the same page and everyone was informed while we were going through the negotiations,” Bellamy said. “We were going to make sure that we were going to get what we deserved, and Meghan had a big part in that.”

The new contract with USA Hockey added maternity protection. Duggan stayed in the national team player pool last year while on pregnancy leave before ultimately deciding to retire.

“I know she’s going to go down in history and probably in all the Hall of Fames,” Bellamy said.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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