Former women’s hockey stars take on big roles in NHL clubs

Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette and the USA's Meghan Duggan both got big promotions last week to lead player development departments
women's hockey Former Team USA captain Meghan Duggan brings a lot of experience to her new role in New Jersey. (ID 110572178 © Zhukovsky |

Over the past few years, we've talked a lot about women's hockey. Currently, many of the game's best players are still boycotting—or protesting by refusing to play—to get a better pro league formed in North America. Others are making tremendous sacrifices to try to make the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) a success, despite COVID and very little money.

But in among these stories of struggle, there have also been really thrilling breakthroughs. For example, two Canadian former women's hockey stars—Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Jennifer Botterill—are regular analysts on Sportsnet's hockey broadcasts alongside ex-NHL stars. And last week, three more of their colleagues got huge and historic promotions at a pair of NHL teams.

We're talking about Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette, and Meghan Duggan. On May 17, Wickenheiser and Goyette were given top positions in the player development department of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wickenheiser has been on the team's staff since 2018. Then, two days later, Duggan was made manager of player development of the New Jersey Devils.

Former stars, current leaders

For years, these three exceptional players—Wickenheiser and Goyette for Canada and Duggan for the USA—went head-to-head as their teams battled for gold medals.

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Goyette raises the winner's trophy after her final world championship in 2007. (Getty Embed)

Danielle Goyette is the oldest of the three women. She scored the first-ever goal in a gold medal game for women's hockey at a Winter Olympics—in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Though Canada settled for silver that year, she helped them win gold in 2002 and 2006. In 2007, she retired from playing as one of Canada's best all-time scorers. She then became a coach at the University of Alberta. In fact, in 2010–11, she coached a good friend and ex-teammate: Hayley Wickenheiser!

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Winning gold in 2014. (Getty Embed)

Wickenheiser is known by most people as the greatest women's hockey player ever. She won four Olympic golds, seven international championship golds (plus six silver), and was the captain of Team Canada for many years. When she retired in 2017 after an incredible 23-year career, she went straight into medical school. (Which she has now graduated from: she's Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser to you!) And in 2018, she was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, as assistant director of player development.

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Duggan visits the Empire State Building with the team she led to a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics. (Getty Embed)

One of Wickeheiser's fiercest rivals during the latter years of her career was Meghan Duggan. This multi-sport star was Team USA's captain for years, helping her country wrestle the gold medal back from Canada at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. She also won a stellar seven international championship golds, usually at the expense of Canada.

What is player development?

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Even after a 23-year playing career, Wickenheiser's life in hockey is only just getting started. (Getty Embed)

All three of these women received jobs in player development: Wickenehiser is senior director and Goyette is director in Toronto, while Duggan is manager in New Jersey. So what is player development, actually?

This department is there to help all of the team's players. But it is especially there to help young players—or prospects—acquired by the team become the best players that they can be. Some of this is on-ice training and working on skills. But they also look after the athletes' mental health, too. It's an exciting time for all of these women to be doing this: Toronto and New Jersey are both full of exceptional young talent.

And of course, it's also exciting because all three of these women are getting the opportunity to prove their worth in jobs traditionally only held by men. As Duggan told ESPN:

I'm looking forward to getting to work, and adding value in an area that I've committed my entire life to. But I also hope people see this and realize there's a space for those who haven't traditionally been in these roles—women, or BIPOC community members; there's a space for that. Times are definitely changing, and I'm excited to be part of it.

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