The Hockey Hall of Fame is welcoming seven new members into its prestigious halls on Monday, November 9, 2015. Join us here at Last Word On Sports as we take an in-depth look at the new inductees. We continue the series with one of the greatest and most important female players to ever play the game, Angela Ruggiero.
Cammi Granato. Angela James. Geraldine Heaney. In order, those are the names of the first three women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. On Monday, Angela Ruggiero will join this impressive list of names as the fourth (and second American) female player in the Hall.
2015 HHOF Induction Profile: Angela Ruggiero
Ruggiero is famous in the United States as one of the greatest and most influential players ever to represent her country. She has four Olympic medals, including a gold from Nagano in 1998, four World Championship gold medals, and played more games for USA Hockey than any other player, male or female, over her thirteen-year career. She participated in ten World Championships. She was awarded the title of best defenseman at the Olympics twice, in 2002 and 2006. The list of accolades goes on and on.
High School Olympian
After being born in Panorama City, California, Ruggiero’s parents moved the family to Harper Woods, Michigan, where she grew up and began playing hockey. At the age of just 18, when she was still in her senior year of high school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, Ruggiero was the youngest player named to the USA Women’s National Team for the 1998 Olympics – the first Games to include women’s hockey. At that tournament, the Americans surprised the world by beating Canada twice, including in an incredibly tense gold medal game that finished 3-1, en route to capturing the first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s ice hockey.
After high school, Ruggiero was accepted to Harvard to study history, competing for the Crimson in the ECAC conference. She led them to a national championship in her first year there, and scored 51 points (fifth among all players in the conference). After making a great first impression, Ruggiero continued to amaze people across the country. She was routinely among the top scorers in the entire NCAA, and was named to the All-American team in all four years of her time at Harvard. She was also a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award for the top female college player in the United States every year, finally winning the prestigious award in 2004, as a senior.
That final year saw Ruggiero rake in an enormous amount of awards and distinctions. She was player of the year for Harvard, the Ivy League and the ECAC. She received the NCAA Top VIII award as one of the top eight student-athletes in the entire country. She was ranked among the top 16 female athletes in the world by ESPN. Just a year before that, in 2003, The Hockey News named Ruggiero the best female hockey player in the world.
After graduating from Harvard with a B.A., Ruggiero made history by playing in a regular season game for the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers. That made her the first female skater to play in a North American pro men’s league game. She lined up alongside her brother, goaltender Bill Ruggiero, to form the first ever brother-sister combo in professional hockey.
In that game against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, she recorded an assist and had a plus-2 rating. Ruggiero shined in the physical league, even laying a huge hit on one of the opposing players. Although she was originally supposed to be limited to one period (as an extra player under CHL rules), the league and both teams’ coaches agreed before the third period that she should be allowed to return to the ice. In her last shift of the game, Ruggiero set up one of the Tulsa players for a goal, making her (obviously) the first woman to score a point in a professional league. The Oilers went on to win that game 7-2.
In the same year, Ruggiero led the American national team to their first ever World Championship title, as she scored the shootout-winning goal to win gold for the USA over Canada, who had won the previous eight tournaments.
In 2006, she once again represented her country at the Olympics in Turin. Ruggiero made headlines that time for a reason other than her on-ice play, as she called out the Canadian team for piling on unnecessary goals after beating hosts Italy 16-0, Russia 12-0, and Sweden 8-1. “I’m upset that Canada has been running up the score, especially against the host nation,” she told reporters. “There was no need for that. They’re trying to pad their stats […] Canada is running up the score for whatever reasons – personal, short-term.”
These words sparked controversy and tension around the hockey world, with everyone jumping to take sides. Notably, Don Cherry supported Ruggiero’s concern that too many blowouts would make the tournament appear too uncompetitive, and jeopardize women’s hockey’s status as an Olympic sport. These comments added to the fierce rivalry developing between the American and Canadian women’s teams, who had met in the final of basically every major tournament to date.
Ruggiero was made an alternate captain of the American team for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The team fell to the Canadians in the final, but were extremely competitive, as always, the whole way through. In the summer of 2010, she was drafted by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s new team, the Boston Blades, where she played the final season of her career before announcing her retirement on December 28, 2011.
Today, Ruggiero is a member of the International Olympic Committee, and is on the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Athletes Committee as its only female participant. In 2014, she was elected vice-chair of the IOC Athlete’s Commission. In addition to her Harvard degree, she has a Masters in Sport Management from the University of Minnesota, and is working towards an MBA at Harvard Business School.
Ruggiero is now well-known for her appearance on The Apprentice, a reality TV show on which she was “fired” by Donald Trump (and then offered a job off-camera). She has also published an autobiographical book, titled Breaking the Ice: My Journey to Olympic Hockey, the Ivy League & Beyond. Ruggiero was also instrumental in the foundation of the new National Women’s Hockey League, the first ever professional female league, and now sits on its advisory board.
Angela Ruggiero is iconic in the American hockey world as one of the most influential players of all time. Her former USA coach, Ben Smith, has stated that “as a defenseman, she probably has no equal in the sport.” Her impact on the game of hockey is incredible, as she has been a huge part of the growth that has come in the last decade, with enrollment for girls in the United States skyrocketing. She has been mentioned as the inspiration for many current players, including the USA’s (and Boston Pride’s) current star, Hilary Knight.
Ruggiero herself has spoken out about the progress of the women’s game. “I think everyone on that ’98 team grew up playing boys’ hockey,” she said. “We had no options. I think young female players now have optionality. […] It’s good because parents were a little intimidated early on to sign up their girls because they only had the option of playing boys. Now they can do both.”
Of all the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, no player did more for their sport than Angela Ruggiero, who well-deservedly joins the hallowed group of hockey’s elite.